THE VIEW FROM HERE-Budget cuts are necessary when there is not enough money to fund our various projects. Of course, every funded program is important to its beneficiaries. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon all of us that we insist that funding those projects that serve the most needy are preserved.
Case in point is “the Valley Trauma Center which is the lead agency of the Family Justice Center which received significant funding cuts to its family Preservation Program.” Such centers, which are essential to the welfare of our greater community, have, in many ways, been given short-shrift. The County continues to fund parts of some programs while severely cutting others. Too frequently sufficient grant monies are no longer available or are at reduced levels.
On the other hand, there has been significant outreach into the community to acquire sponsors-- Keyes, 7-Eleven, and In-and-Out Burgers are among them. The office of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has given its own ongoing support to these facilities and has helped see that much of the needed funding is provided.
Many practitioners are currently working out of trailers until their “home” is ready for occupancy. I had the opportunity to visit the trailer site and was immediately struck by the dedication of the staff and the wide variety of programs available to the public—providing much-needed services for the countless individuals who are at the end of their rope, and saving the many whose feelings of utter futility have caused them to consider suicide.
The Family Justice Center (the first of its kind in Los Angeles although there are many across the country) is a non-profit multi-agency institution. It “is recognized as a best-practice model by the U. S. Department of Justice.” This center is designed to handle in-take populations under one roof.
Currently, partly due to the Supervisor’s ongoing and dedicated advocacy, the Family Justice Center is being refurbished. It is essentially being built from the ground up in Van Nuys where the former DWP building once stood. An Open House is scheduled for some time this summer.
I am disappointed, however, that no attention was made to designing a “green” building which could have served as a community model for energy-efficiency and water-reduction use. I know money is always a determiner but it goes back to the old saying, Pay me now or pay me later.
When I had the opportunity to visit the Center (under construction) with Ann Conkle, VTC Outreach and Engagement Officer, I was amazed with its overall design in what will be a rather compact edifice. For lay people (of whom I am one), the “organizational map” seems more than a bit confusing, but I shall try to offer a “simple” explanation of the programs:
The Family Justice Center partners with California State University, Northridge; Northridge Hospital Medical Center; and the City of Los Angeles. In various ways, these three serve as an umbrella over the following programs: the Valley Trauma Center (VTC is located in Van Nuys in addition to Northridge and Santa Clarita), the Center for Healthier Communities, the Center for Assault Treatment Services; LAPD Valley Bureau Operations which oversees Major Assault Crimes through the Van Nuys Division; legal services provided by LA City Attorneys and/or Neighborhood Legal Services; and the Jewish Family Services Family Violence Project.
Furthermore, there are spaces for parent education, child play-therapy and activity areas, a kitchen and dining area and community training rooms. There is also a 24-hour overnight room.
The Valley Trauma Center has a 26-year history and provides both in-home and out-patient services there. The comprehensive programs are open to all and concentrate on domestic abuse and sexual violence, child abuse, victims of a variety of crimes, mental health issues, and overall counselling related to all of these concerns. The needs of individuals, couples, and families are addressed with sensitivity, compassion, and expertise. The vision of the VTC is simple: It “is dedicated to empowering individuals and families to lead full and productive lives in safe homes and communities free of abuse and violence.”
Importantly, there is an emphasis on prevention, reaching out into the community to schools, parent centers, religious institutions, focus groups, community events. Educating about what the signs of abuse are and how to rise above them (in order to once again become whole) are two teaching tools. Helping people realize that they are not alone in their frightening and harrowing experiences and that other people share their despair is comforting at the very least. Providing coping tools is obviously essential.
There is a collaboration between the County Department of Children and Family Services and input from a biological relative and/or private party (when possible) in order to follow children from foster home to permanent adoption placement. Because we have witnessed nightmarish stories regarding both parents and guardians, potential adoptive parents are being rigorously screened. We must not repeat what happened to the young boy in Palmdale who was repeatedly abused by his mother’s boyfriend until his was brutally murdered (despite calls into the system that abuse was taking place).
Thus, assessments will address the following question: Will the adoption (for children eligible between ages of birth to 17) be successful for traumatized and/or endangered children? Interracial adoptions require a little more oversight to insure that the children will not only be introduced to the new culture of their adoptive parents but will continue to be imbued with the values of their birth culture.
The Family Preservation Program has centers located throughout the County (such as Shields for Families in Compton). These services work to mitigate conditions where there has been child abuse within the family due to drugs or violence. Some stressors that also impel the abuse come from economic and housing issues which the program tries to resolve. There is an effort to keep the family whole as much as possible by removing the perpetrator from the home. Safety is an utmost priority. The Department of Child and Family Services recommends when removal of the abuser from the home is crucial. Subsequently, services for family members who have been adversely affected by the harmful treatment are then provided.
Sexual assault and domestic abuse cases, in particular, are handled at the Center for Assault Treatment Services. Law enforcement officers bring in “alleged” victims for forensic interviews (blood collection for DNA and photos, for instance) and examinations take place (conducted by professionals whose expertise covers such cases). The results are used to help apprehend and/or indict the alleged criminal.
If the injuries are so severe that the clinic cannot provide emergency treatment, the victims are taken directly to a hospital, such as Northridge (but any other that is available) where they receive immediate care and treatment. Evidence is collected there, instead of at the clinic, by the Center’s professionals for use in potential prosecutions.
In either case, on-site advocacy is conducted. Referrals are made to any number of centers, such as Northridge Hospital or to other locations. Upon the recommendation of the DCSF (Department of Child and Family Services), patients are transported (free of charge) to this center for services. Clients representing other categories provide their own transportation.
Despite all the adversities, there is still a 24-hour Sexual and Domestic Abuse Hotline for people of all ages. It responds to the complainants and can make referrals to hospitals (such as Northridge Hospital) and clinics within both the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. CATS (the Center for Abuse and Treatment Services—formerly dedicated only to children’s issues) provides essential help. Forensic exams and counselling are available at the site for those who have been physically harmed.
The Center for Healthier Communities is funded mostly through grants and is responsible for all community-benefit activities as they relate to health services. This department handles cases of obesity, nutrition counselling, sexual assault of all ages, fitness, and domestic violence. Other Northridge Hospital departments administer additional kinds of health-related issues. It does not matter where the victim lives or where the incident took place, the patient is always welcome there to receive its services.
The County Department of Health Services provides mental and physical health services. It has locations throughout the County. Those in the Valley include the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar and other clinics in Pacoima, San Fernando, and Mid-Valley. Follow-up referrals are made and, for those who qualify under Medi-Cal, these services are free or at low cost.
One ongoing problem is that many doctors no longer accept Medi-Cal patients—an immoral decision, I think, since every doctor must swear to “do no harm” as a condition of being licensed. It seems to me that refusing to administer medical services is doing harm!
We all benefit when we support the maintenance and expansion of such institutions. In one way or another, we are all affected. Certainly we know people—family, friends, acquaintances—who have been victims or perpetrators. Our neighborhoods will be safer, our personal well-being will be more secure, our communities will live more harmoniously if our health needs are taken seriously and met in a timely fashion.
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● 24-hour Hotline (toll free): 818-886-0453/661-253-0258
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 23
Pub: Mar 18, 2014