For more than three years, the Santa Ana Family Justice Center has been guiding victims of domestic violence through what otherwise would seem like a convoluted maze of social and legal services.
One of two centers providing help to domestic violence victims in the county, the Santa Ana Family Justice Center is believed to be the only facility of its kind in the nation located within a police department.
Through in-house advocates and partnerships with outside agencies, the Center provides assistance in obtaining restraining orders, finding emergency housing, counseling, and navigating through the justice system.
The Center recently celebrated its third anniversary by inviting service providers and community members to its offices on the second floor of the police department.
“We’re a one-stop shop,” said Family Justice Center Operations Specialist Leslee Razo, who oversees the center. “That is our mission, to minimize the retelling of the story by the victims. We don’t want to them to feel re-triggered or re-traumatized.”
In 2019, the Santa Ana City Council appropriated funding to operate the center, which began serving clients in early 2020. Over the past three years, the center has fielded nearly 3,600 calls, served more than 1,000 clients, and provided more than 4,600 services.
Providers available through the Family Justice Center include Casa De La Familia, a nonprofit organization that provides trauma counseling for families and individuals; and the Women’s Transitional Living Center, which offers shelter for women and children along with help for mental illness and addiction. Other resources include the Orange County Department of Child Support Services, County of Orange Social Services Agency, Eli Home for Abused Children, the Community Legal Aid Society, Mexican Consulate, and Crime Survivors.
The Center is part of the Family Justice Center Alliance, a collective of more than 50 local justice centers from around the country that collaborate on best practices, employ shared training, and provide technical and funding assistance.
“I think the overall encompassing thought is that the police department cannot do it alone without our partners,” said Cmdr. Joseph Marty, who is in charge of community engagement and oversees the Center. “And our partners cannot do it alone without their police department. It is a collaborative group effort in order to serve their community. We are stronger united and are stronger in collaboration than we are separate.”
Many clients first learn about the Family Justice Center from officers in the field responding to a call. The Center’s community partners also do outreach through their own agencies to let potential clients know about the Center and its services.
Domestic violence advocate Kathy Aguilera works directly with the clients, who are sometimes distraught and emotional on their initial visit. Aguilera determines what services the client needs.
“Sometimes in talking to them, they don’t realize they needed services,” Aguilera said. “We’re here to educate them on what we have … and let them know that we are here to help them.”
Razo said she feels privileged to be part of such a vital community resource.
“We’ve impacted a lot of clients and we’ve been able to get that feedback and that just gives us motivation to keep doing what we are doing,” Razo said. “I feel very honored to be part of it and I continue to grow and educate myself on providing updated resources and updated information to our community.”