Community Foundation of New Jersey

Replicating the Family Justice Center Model in New Jersey

May 11, 2015

As more New Jerseyans have become familiar with the work of the Essex County Family Justice Center, its model of supporting domestic violence victims is gaining much-deserved recognition. More importantly, other counties are expressing interest in expanding the model to their parts of the state.

This is a positive development for New Jersey, and we are proud to help foster it.

Representatives from New Jersey at the Family Justice Center Alliance national conference, including (from left to right) Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park; Union County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Olesnycky – Director, Domestic Violence Unit; Janice C. Lilien – Executive Director, Union County YWCA; Jamie McFarland – Legal Advocacy Manager and Cathy Stephens – Director of Client Services, Jersey Battered Women Services; Gael Strack – CEO Family Justice Center Alliance; Mary Houtsma – Executive Director and Aura Caicedo – Health Navigator of Essex County Family Justice Center.

Filling an enormous void, the Essex County Family Justice Center provides coordinated and confidential services to domestic violence victims and their children. Its central, safe location in Newark is a haven for victims who desperately need the time, space, and mental clarity to assess their personal safety and speak with compassionate professionals who can help them change their situation.

The Community Foundation’s Leadership Committee last year made a $25,000 grant to the Essex County Family Justice Center to expand its good work on behalf of New Jersey’s acutely vulnerable. Since the time of this grant, Jersey Battered Women’s Service (another Community Foundation grantee) has corralled the right partners and resources to open a Family Justice Center in Morris County. Officials in Union County are also actively working to establish a Family Justice Center there.

With this enthusiasm for growth, representatives from all three counties, as well as Jersey Battered Women’s Service, recently attended the 15th annual conference of the Alliance of Family Justice Centers, held in San Diego in late April.

The theme of this year’s conference was, “Health Matters, Hope Heals: What Every Professional Needs to Know about Trauma.”

“The conference provided us with a tremendous opportunity to discuss strategies for expansion of the Family Justice Center Model in New Jersey with the national technical assistance providers,” said Mary Houtsma, the Essex County Family Justice Center’s executive director. “We were also able to highlight the work we are doing in Essex County to address the health needs of domestic violence victims.”

Panelists that described their health initiatives in four Family Justice Centers across the country: (from left to right) Sheri Strahl and Kim Goldberg-Roth from the Strength United Family Safety Center in Los Angeles; Aura Caicedo – Health Navigator at Essex County Family Justice Center; Kathy Bell from the Tulsa Family Safety Center in Oklahoma; and Rebecca Lovelace of FACES Family Justice Center in Idaho.

Health Navigator Aura Caicedo of the Essex County Family Justice Center spoke on a panel about the innovative ways in which the Center addresses the healthcare needs of families affected by domestic violence.

Of the more than 80 Family Justice Centers around the country, the Essex County Family Justice Center is one of only four addressing the healthcare needs of survivors.

The Community Foundation congratulates Mary Houtsma, Aura Caicedo, and the entire Essex County Family Justice Center for their leadership role in sharing their model with other counties in New Jersey, and now nationally.

We also anticipate with great interest the State of New Jersey’s upcoming recommendation in the NJ Study Commission on Violence Report, which is expected to be approved on May 14th, that Family Justice Centers are a viable model for assisting women and their children facing domestic violence. We will update interested fundholders and donors when the State issues its report.

If you would like to support the growth of Family Justice Centers in New Jersey and become part of their important work, please contact Margarethe Laurenzi at 973-267-5533 or