Montgomery County's Family Justice Center looks to expand

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County's Family Justice Center, which helps victims of domestic violence and their families seek help, is hoping to expand, as more residents use the center.

The center is looking to expand into a vacant office space in the same Rockville building. Officials also are looking to hire a new volunteer coordinator for the center if the expansion is approved.

The request is part of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department's proposed fiscal 2014 budget. The additional 5,000 square feet would cost the county about $130,000, but officials say the expansion is financially smart because the space is adjacent to the current offices.

Sheriff Darren Popkin told a County Council committee that the center saw 5,000 new clients last year, and he estimates that return clients number almost 10,000, with the increased demand cramping the center.

Staff at the Family Justice Center, which opened in 2009, provide services to victims of domestic violence, such as legal assistance, finding safer environments, figuring out their finances and connecting them with professionals who specialize in victim safety.

According to CourtWatch Montgomery, a nonprofit organization that advocates against domestic violence, more than 4,000 women are domestically abused in Montgomery County each year. The group also estimates that up to 76,000 women in the county are likely to be attacked by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. National statistics estimate one in four women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.

The Sheriff's Office hopes to add additional interview rooms and new spaces for volunteers. It also wants to establish a medical forensic unit in the future, which would be funded through grants.

The volunteer position would cost about $75,000 annually, but officials anticipate spending about $18,000 in fiscal 2014, as they don't expect to fill the position until September.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said the center has been a pivotal part of the county's effort to help victims of violence and their families.

"The expansion services will really strengthen the center, which is already very good, but it can have these other services located there that would add significantly to it," he said.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County reporter
The Washington Examiner