COUCH’S CORNER: Second Kern County Household Justice Heart coming to south Kern | The Delano Report

I am very excited to announce the creation of a second Kern County Family Justice Center south of Kern in the Lamont area. District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and her office deserve credit for this plan, but I’m glad our District Office 4 was able to help develop and implement it. We didn’t do much. All we really did was avoid them, but sometimes this is what the government has to do to make things happen.

Last year, prior to the pandemic, our Lamont office hosted a town hall to address community concerns about the crime and the consequences of the fear that lingered in the community after a series of heinous gang killings. Some people tearfully described their fears and distress and complained that they had nowhere to go as victims of crime. They stayed in the shadows while perpetrators of fear and violence wreaked havoc in their homes and neighborhoods. We heard those passionate voices, and now that the pandemic is over, we’re excited to work with the DA Office, Probation Officer and his department, and Kern County’s General Services Department, to create a safe place , at which victims and other vulnerable and frightened residents can seek refuge and help.

Here is a brief history of the family justice center model. In 1989, the vision was first proposed by the then Assistant Attorney for the City of San Diego for a collaboration center, a family justice center, where victims of domestic violence or sexual assault could easily access information and support from a variety of service providers in a single visit. Based on this idea, the first FJC was opened in San Diego in 2002. There are now over 130 FJCs in the United States. The philosophy behind the FJC model is solid. A victim in a crisis, especially if the crime takes place at home, often does not have the time and money to make decisions and access the resources and programs they desperately need. Providing a safe and accessible FJC website where a victim of domestic violence, substance abuse, or child abuse can speak to a trained and knowledgeable attorney is key to providing optimal victim service in the community.

In Kern County, the DA office, in collaboration with numerous partner agencies, opened the FJC in Bakersfield on Oak Street next to Beach Park in January 2018. The FJC has helped over 7,265 victims (clients) since it opened three years ago, 5,058 of these first-time clients.

Each client is greeted and then met by a knowledgeable and trained victim attorney from the prosecutor’s office. During this initial admission process, the customer can choose from the many partners and resources available. Meetings with these partners are held either face-to-face or virtually. Some of the services offered include legal counsel, case management, counseling, legal assistance, immigration assistance, clothing, employment assistance, internet access, interpreter, law enforcement, legal assistance, injunctions, safety planning, support groups, victim compensation, child support services, cal work / monetary assistance / food stamps, emergency shelter, remittances from Emergency shelter and sexual assault / hospital escort.

Local partners include the DA Office, Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Greater Bakersfield Legal Aid, Department of Human Services, and Kern County Child Support Services. Our external community partners include the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Bakersfield Police Department, Dress for Success, Kern County Elderly and Adult Services, and court-appointed special attorneys.

The most important component of a successful victim support model is accessibility for victims. Providing a more geographically accessible location in South Kern at 12022 Main St. in Lamont will make services easier to access. Choosing partners with existing relationships with the community also greatly improves the ability of a victim to use services. Areas served by the proposed South Kern FJC include Arvin, Lamont, Taft and Frazier Park.

There were hundreds of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases reported to law enforcement in 2020. We recognize that many crimes of this type go unreported. The DA office has worked with representatives from Lideres Campesinas, who mainly serve farm workers in the Arvin / Lamont area, and who believe that the number of unreported and undetected domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse is significant.

The proposal for the South Kern Family Justice Center is for the site to be smaller but operate on largely the same lines as the Metro Bakersfield site and provide the same services, but be tailored to accommodate more services that are provided by the southern core population are needed. Other local partners would be an experienced bilingual victim lawyer from the DA office and a lawyer from Lideres Campesinas. Campesinas will be able to go to the fields and home to provide information about the family justice center and what it has to offer. Another local partner will be a bilingual lawyer from the women’s center in the High Desert who offers trauma-related advice.

Many of the same external partners that provide full service with the Metro FJC will also be available for the same services and act as a source of remittance. In addition to these partners, we also work with local community cooperatives such as the South Valley Neighborhood Partnership and the Taft Community Resource Center.

An opening date will be set once some improvements have been made to the site. We hope this project will be successful and that many of our vulnerable residents of the southern core will use the services. Our desire is to help the victims and empower families so that our residents can lead happy and productive lives.

As our office in District 4 in Weedpatch will be used for this new center, we will be making arrangements for a new office. However, we can rest assured that we will still be able to meet all members of the southern core at numerous locations. If you have any questions on this or any other District 4 topic, please contact our office at Di[email protected] or 661-868-3680. I wish you a nice week.

David Couch represents Kern County’s 4th District.

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