UPPER MARLBORO – Domestic violence survivors in the county will now only have to walk a few steps following court proceedings to receive the help they need thanks to the opening of a new Family Justice Center in Upper Marlboro.
Dozens of county officials, representatives and citizens gathered June 9 for the Family Justice Center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and subsequent tour. Creating the new facility was a seven-year initiative taken on by Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams and the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, along with many other collaborators located in the center.
However, Adams noted several times throughout the ceremony that stakeholders, including her colleagues on the circuit court, the county council and the Family Justice Center Task Force Committee, among others, made this undertaking possible.
“Every time I went to the county council, they didn’t ask me, ‘Why judge?’ They asked me, ‘What can we do? When is it going to open? We’re behind you 100 percent,’” she said.
County Council Chair Derrick Davis issued a statement that further expressed his support for the project.
“The council commends the leadership and commitment of the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, and the Honorable Sheila R. Tillerson Adams, Administrative Judge, Prince George’s County and the Seventh Judicial Circuit, as the Family Justice Center opens its doors,” he said. “We all share in the responsibility to address the unfortunate reality of domestic violence and assist domestic violence survivors as they move forward with their lives.
“The new Family Justice Center, the first of its kind in Prince George’s County, demonstrates to our friends, family members, and neighbors that they are not alone. Together, we are working to support families, and our ongoing collective efforts will help save lives in Prince George’s County.”
Located a few yards from the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, the13,000 square-foot building that is the Family Justice Center looks to bring together services from 19 providers to give survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, elder abuse and sexual assault the services necessary to reconcile their lives.
While there are many domestic violence resources in the county, what separates the Family Justice Center is that all types of services for many forms of abuse are all available in one single location, making it the first of its type in the county.
Such services include counseling, safety planning, legal assistance and social services. The center will begin its operations June 27, but County Executive Rushern Baker III said there still is an important battle to fight.
“This is not the end. This is the beginning. Bricks and mortars will not solve our problems, humans will,” he said. “The Family Justice Center is about us. It’s about our commitment as a county and as a people to do what God has called us to do, and that is to make this world better.”
In 2014, a total of 2,083 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Prince George’s County, approximately 1,000 more than in 2011, according to the state’s 2014 Uniform Crime Report.
Additionally, Chief Judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals Mary Ellen Barbara said last year 31,400 protective order cases were filed in district and circuit courts across the state with 6,500 being filed in Prince George’s, the highest of any county.
“These are sobering numbers that speak to the level of need for domestic violence victims and their families,” Barbara said. “We can best address this need through the Family Justice Center, which brings together, in one welcoming and convenient location, all of the resources victims and their families may require.”
Adams played a vital role in securing the court’s location, which has many excited because victims will be able to get the help they need in a convenient location with a welcoming, comforting atmosphere.
“Each (center partner) is so important in making sure we make a difference in the lives of these citizens, but more importantly, change the way we think about domestic violence and violence and in this community. Change it so that we can eradicate it,” Adams said.