'Failure's not an option' in Chattanooga's mission to open Family Justice Center

'Failure's not an option' in Chattanooga's mission to open Family Justice Center

October 7th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Paul Smith

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga's mission from the state to open the doors of a Family Justice Center in three years is specific: Don't fail.

Tennessee officials have hinged their plan to curb violence against women on three cities that received pass-through grants from the U.S. Justice Department this year to open their own centers.

Training began last week at Knoxville's Family Justice Center. Bill Scollon, director of the state's Office of Criminal Justice Programs, told leaders from Chattanooga, Nashville and Cookeville that Tennessee is the first in the country to back a statewide effort to help open centers solely focused on domestic violence and to have the backing of community resources.

"It's going to be very important because a lot of eyes will be on us to succeed," Scollon said. "Failure's not an option."

Tennessee is in the top 10 list of states with the highest rates of men killing women. Scollon said the state's goal is to reduce homicides, increase women's safety, reduce fear in children and to build better cases to prosecute abusers.

Chattanooga leaders who attended the Knoxville meeting said they are committed to the goal and feel like the community will support it over the next three years.

"It's a no-brainer," said Paul Smith, Chattanooga's public safety coordinator. "Chattanooga has to have this; it's not an option."

From the third floor of the Knoxville Family Justice Center, the entrance looks like the outside of a home.

Welcome mats lies to each side of the pine doors. Inside, the living room looks welcoming, with a fountain burbling on a side table and an open door leading to a toy room.

Women who come to the center are asked to fill out detailed questionnaires. Do you have a place to stay away from your abuser? Do you have any access transportation? Would you like to talk to a prosecutor? Fill out a police report?

Sandra Hollett

Sandra Hollett

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Two floors below, the Knoxville police and Knox County's family crime unit have offices. A woman who wants a restraining order and meets the requirements can get a staff member or volunteer to take the application to a judge.

At the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults in Chattanooga, director Sandra Hollett said many of the services already exist in one building. The difference will be having law enforcement and the district attorney's support office possibly housed in the same location.

"People have had vision about this 25 years ago in our community when they started our family violence center," Hollett said. "We're in a good position to hit the ground running."

But there are many steps ahead: Get public input, find a location and get nonprofit support, build a volunteer group and figure out how to sustain the center when the three-year grant ends.

Knoxville officials used an old school. Charlotte Boatwright ,who heads the Domestic Violence Coalition of Greater Chattanooga, said she hopes Chattanooga can do the same.

Smith said the question of who will get the center running and keep it going is still to be decided. He thinks government involvement will ensure the center's sustainability in the community.

As for the pressure from the state to open the doors by the deadline, Smith said: "I felt the weight of the mandate but I also felt the support. It's going to be done."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.