Harford center for family services opens

In the Region

August 13, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Dolphin-shaped seats, gingham-covered tables and paintings of smiling fish are hardly typical decor for a center that houses prosecutors, social workers, counselors and sheriff's deputies, all working cooperatively on domestic violence and child abuse cases. But organizers of the center are hoping the atmosphere at Harford County's new Family Justice Center in downtown Bel Air helps put victims at ease and encourages them to cooperate with investigators.

"We need the victim on our side," said State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly. "The biggest problem is that victims get discouraged with the system. We have set up a place where they can feel comfortable."

The center, initially funded with a $165,000 state grant and formally dedicated last week, provides direct access to services that include shelter and legal representation. Information on criminal histories, whereabouts and activities, compiled by two newly hired clerks, is immediately available.

"The clerks are a big issue for us," Cassilly said. "We have the data, but if it's sitting in boxes and not in the system, it's not accessible. No one can make the connection to information that's sitting in someone's file cabinet."

Also, the sheriff's unit can handle protective orders and victims can readily contact counselors from the county's Spouse Abuse Resource Center.

"The center is a single point of contact for victims in a place that is decent, clean and welcoming, " Cassilly said. " ... We are lessening the frustration, aggravation and inconvenience for victims."

The county handled 328 child sexual cases last year and has projected an increase to 408 cases this year. Nearly 100 registered sex offenders are being monitored. Cassilly's staff has worked on nearly 1,100 domestic violence cases and issued 1,467 protective orders this year.

County Executive David R. Craig, a former teacher, addressed an audience of about 100 at the dedication. He recalled an altercation from his first classroom nearly 35 years ago. "The biggest shock I had as a teacher was that everybody didn't grow up in a safe environment," Craig said. "We cannot afford not to deal with these issues. ... Thank you for making this building work."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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