In September 2022, the Foyle Family Justice Centre in Derry became the first Family Justice Centre in the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland to open its doors.
Whilst the Family Justice Centre model has been in operation in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe since 2002, the Foyle Centre is the first to be established domestically.
The Foyle Family Justice Centre Model builds a coordinated community response into the bricks and mortar of its building. Based on the internationally recognised Family Justice Centre Model, the Foyle Centre integrates a range of agencies to work in the same building, thereby provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ which victims and survivors of domestic abuse can visit to receive referrals, as well as access to a range of support services.
In Foyle, a survivor can visit the Family Justice Centre to access a range of services, including support going through the criminal justice system, therapeutic support for themselves and their children, a creche, referrals to perpetrator programmes, use the Achieving Best Evidence Suites, as well as a video link room which can be used for remotely attending court hearings.
Near the Foyle Family Justice Centre are nine newly built self-contained accommodation units, which are fully furnished and provide safe housing for survivors and their families who have to flee their homes. Whilst all the flats are self-contained, there is a communal area on the ground floor where survivors can congregate.
Co-locating these organisations under one roof reduces the number of times which a victim of domestic abuse has to recount their story, as well as reducing the number of places they have to go to for help. Through this, they are able to limit the re-traumatisation experienced by survivors along the journey to freedom and healing.
The Family Justice Centre was spearheaded by Foyle Women’s Aid, with the support of the judiciary, policing and the Northern Irish Government and was designed in consultation with victims and survivors of domestic abuse to ensure their needs were at the heart of the design.
The Foyle Family Justice Centre’s ethos recognises that responding to domestic abuse should not fall at the feet of any single organisation, rather, it takes a concerted effort from a range of organisations to work together to ensure that victims and survivors can easily access all of the support they need.
The approach is based around key principles, which focus on safety, a victim-centred approach, empowerment, offender accountability, evidence-based practices and culturally competent services.
When domestic abuse organisations and agencies work together, we see better outcomes for victims.
A survey of over 4,000 survivors carried out by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office revealed that the majority of victims wished to access a form of community-based service, with many noting that they wished to access inventions such as counselling, mental health support, legal support and support with the criminal justice and family justice processes. Survivors who accessed support reported feeling safer and more in control of their lives than those who did not.
The Foyle Family Justice Centre is a key example of this, with survivors being able to access all the support they need under one roof, with the assistance of workers who are trauma-informed and are best-equipped to meet a range of survivors’ needs.
An evaluation of the Family Justice Centre framework showed that in the USA, the use of this model contributed to a drop in domestic abuse-related homicides across several states.
Having had the opportunity to visit the centre in Foyle, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner looks forward to hearing about the positive impact which this new centre will have on survivors across Derry.
Our office is deeply rooting for its success, which we hope will incite a wider roll-out of this great initiative across England and Wales.