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Faculty awarded $539K grant to study family justice centers

Over the last two decades, family justice centers have served as one-stop shop locations across the country to address the needs of survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. These centers bring together community partners under one roof, including domestic and sexual violence agencies, legal partners, law enforcement, social services, and mental health agencies, to provide coordinated services that aim to reduce the number of times survivors must share their stories and the number of places they must go for help.

Although these centers are widely seen as a promising model, they have been difficult to evaluate because some operate differently than others. As a result, little is known about what parts of the practice work well and what areas could be strengthened.

A team of researchers from the UNC School of Social Work and from UNC Greensboro aim to address this gap as part of their two-year evaluability assessment and formative evaluation. The project is supported by a $539,232 grant from the National Institute of Justice and will focus on examining how these complex centers work.

Co-principal investigators and social work faculty members Cindy Fraga Rizo and Tonya Van Deinse are leading the study. School of Social Work professor Rebecca Macy, faculty research associate Christopher Wretman and Christine Murray, director for the UNC-G Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, are co-investigators on the project.

For the first year of the study, the researchers will partner with eight centers across North Carolina to better understand this complex model. This study will address questions such as how the centers function, who the typical partners are, how the partners work together and share sensitive information, and what coordination and collaboration look like. The first year will also focus on learning from providers and survivors about how best to evaluate the model.

“One of the challenges is figuring out all these pieces because the model is implemented differently across the country, and they may have different elements and partners involved, so there’s not necessarily one way to evaluate this model as an intervention,” said Van Deinse, a clinical associate professor. “For example, I think what’s important to know is how these centers are operating in an urban county versus a rural county and what critical components of this model are needed to produce positive outcomes for clients.”

The second year of the project will consist of a formative evaluation focused on testing out the practice and research materials developed from year one. This will include collecting outcome data to determine the difference family justice centers are making in the lives of clients who use them.

Given growing interest in expanding these kinds of one-stop-shop centers, it is critical to know how they work and the impact they make in the lives of survivors, added Rizo, an assistant professor.

“We hope that the findings and products from this study will lead to more rigorous evaluations of the model,” she said.