Episode 08: Jennifer DeCarli and NYC Family Justice Centers
Jennifer DeCarli, Assistant Commissioner for NYC Family Justice Centers and Outreach at the Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and colleagues Tracey Downing and Maisie Breit meet with Karen and Sabah to detail the NYC Family Justice Centers' free and confidential assistance for victims and survivors of domestic and gender-based violence, which can include sexual violence, human trafficking, stalking, and intimate partner violence.
Jennifer DeCarli is the Assistant Commissioner for Family Justice Centers and Outreach at the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV). In this role, she oversees the operations of the City’s five Family Justice Centers as well as the outreach efforts for ENDGBV. She has over 20 years’ experience working with survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in New York State. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from New York University and a Juris Doctorate from the University at Buffalo School of Law, and has held several leadership positions during her career, including: Director of the Brooklyn Family Court Program and the Staten Island Family and Criminal Court Program at Safe Horizon; Executive Director of the Brooklyn Family Justice Center and Director of Legal Services at Her Justice, a not for profit civil legal services agency serving low income women in the areas of immigration law, family law and matrimonial law in New York City. Prior to her work in New York City, Jennifer represented domestic violence survivors in Family Court in upstate New York and provided technical assistance and support to civil legal attorneys working with survivors of domestic violence. She also supported communities across New York State working to create coordinated community responses to domestic violence. Jennifer has served as an adjunct clinic instructor at the University of Buffalo’s Family Violence Clinic and in Fordham University’s School of Social Work teaching courses on domestic violence and the legal system’s response.
In March 2014, Jennifer was selected by The Lawyer’s Committee against Domestic Violence to receive their annual In the Trenches award which recognizes courage, vision and dedication to ending intimate partner violence and in March 2015, Jennifer was presented with the Ally Award by the Urban Justice Center Domestic Violence Project.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:36] Hi everyone and welcome back to “You Matter”, a podcast created to teach, inspire, and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host Karen Ortman, assistant vice president of field operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional.
Sabah Fatima [00:00:59] And I am Sabah Fatima, premed graduate student here at NYU College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999.
Karen Ortman [00:01:14] Today we introduce Jennifer DeCarli Esquire, NYU alumna and the assistant commissioner for Family Justice Centers and Outreach at the mayor's office to end domestic and gender based violence. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:01:29] Thank you for having me.
Karen Ortman [00:01:31] Can you please share with our listeners the purpose of the Family Justice Centers in New York City and how they might be a valuable resource to our listeners.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:01:36] Sure, I'd be happy to. The mayor's office to end domestic and gender based violence operates five Family Justice Centers in New York City and the goal of a Family Justice Center is to really make it easy for someone to get help. There's so much that you're having to deal with if you're in an abusive situation, it shouldn't be challenging to also try to seek help. So the concept is that if you put all of the services in one location, so help with housing, help with shelter, maybe if you want to talk to the police, if you want to talk to a lawyer, if your children need help, if you put us all in one location it's going to be much easier to get that assistance. New York City actually has the largest network of family justice centers in the country. This is the new kind of best practices model for helping survivors who are going through domestic and gender based violence.
Karen Ortman [00:02:27] OK. So if you have a victim that reports to the family justice center, that could be somebody who's in an acute situation and say they were sexually abused or sexually assaulted two hours ago or sexually abused 10 years ago. They can report to a Family Justice Center.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:02:47] Yes exactly. If anyone who identifies as experiencing domestic or gender based violence, whether or not that was two hours ago or two years ago, the center is really there to help somebody heal and develop a services plan that works for them.
Karen Ortman [00:03:03] So let's say somebody reports to a Family Justice Center. First of all, how do they know which center to go to.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:03:10] So all of our locations are listed on NYC Hope on our website. We have one in every borough and they're located in pretty convenient locations right by the trains and subways. You don't need an appointment, they’re walk in. You can go to the center that makes the most sense for you. You know, whether or not it's a center that you live in that burrow so it's close by, or perhaps you don't want to go to the center in your neighborhood because you're worried the abusive partner may see you go to that location. You can choose to go to a different location. So really whatever center you feel most comfortable going to is a center that you should go to.
Karen Ortman [00:03:46] So what happens once a victim reports to a Family Justice Center.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:03:51] So once you come into the center, all the centers have a security desk where they’ll welcome you to the center and they're going to ask for identification. If you don't have identification, that's fine. We're just going to need to escort you into the building and that's just because of the security policy there to keep everyone safe. They don't require you to have an appointment so you really just present, you let them know that you want to speak with somebody and you'll be welcomed in by our reception staff. You'll then be connected to what we call a screener who will screen you for what services you're looking for today. And we couldn't run these family justice centers without the amazing community-based partners here in New York City. We have over 40 community-based organizations that locate staff at these centers. So they also have staff at their main offices but then they have staff located fuller part time at our centers providing case management, providing legal services, providing long term counseling, providing children services. So you'll be screened for what services you're looking for. You'll be connected to a case manager from one of those community based agencies and they'll help you develop a service plan for what kind of help you're looking for that day.
Karen Ortman [00:05:00] Let's say the victim wants to report to law enforcement and they’re at the Family Justice Center. What does that look like.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:05:12] So at each family justice center we have a partnership with NYPD. They have two domestic violence prevention officers sitting at all the family justice centers. They wear plain clothes to make the experience more client-centered and not as intimidating as it may be to walk into a precinct. You can make an initial police report there to those officers with the support of an advocate from one of our community based organizations. You can also get copies of maybe past police reports that you've made but you may have lost the copies or don't have them. You can also just speak to them about what's going on. Some survivors have not yet experienced maybe physical violence or threats but they may be experiencing emotional abuse. And so you could talk to them about that and when it rises to the level of something that a police report could be made for.
Karen Ortman [00:06:05] I heard you mentioned domestic violence but can victims of sexual assault report to a Family Justice Center as well?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:06:10] Yes. Victims of sexual assault often - I think I mentioned domestic violence because many times as a victim of intimate partner violence and domestic violence you're also experiencing sexual violence. So you can definitely make that report at the Family Justice Center. But our offices will collaborate with the special victims detectives that handle sexual assault reports in New York City. So you can make that initial report to them and then they will work with those special officers to either have them come to a family justice center or perhaps go to one of their offices. But with the support of an advocate to report the sexual violence.
Karen Ortman [00:06:45] OK, if a victim reports to the Family Justice Center for the sole purpose of discussing an order of protection. Is that a consultation that is possible, just to discuss that, and will someone from the Family Justice Center help facilitate the filing of the application or the affidavit for the order of protection, or the temporary order.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:07:09] Yes that's a great question. I think a lot of people when they think about you know what help I can get, especially if you've left the abusive relationship, are seeking orders of protection. All of our advocates are trained to help somebody file for what is called a family court order of protection. So that's an order of protection you can get without having to have the person arrested, I mean, our civil side of our court systems. And so we can actually help someone draft that petition, that initial petition. We have lawyers onsite do consultations about what that process will look like and we at four of our centers can actually have the person sit at the Family Justice Center and Skype to the courthouse and appear initially on that petition. Yeah, we're really trying to use technology and new ways to make the experience even more client centered and safe. You know one of the things I should have said in the beginning is that all of the services that we offer the family justice center are there so that the client can choose what services make the most sense for them. We want to deliver those services in a client centered way and we want to make sure someone knows the whole spectrum of options that are out there for them if they're experiencing domestic and gender based violence.
Karen Ortman [00:08:19] And when you say client-centered just for the benefit of our listeners what do you mean.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:08:24] So what we mean by client-centered is that when someone is seeking help they're not going to experience someone who tells them what they should do. Right. Because we don't know someone's experience and situation they know best. And so we need to respect that and we need to make sure that the client is the one kind of driving the train and making sure that the services meet their needs.
Karen Ortman [00:08:47] Jennifer, for the benefit of our listeners can you please explain what client-centered means.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:08:51] Sure I'd be happy to. I think that's a term we often use as social workers and professionals to explain a way to provide services to survivors that is driven by what the client is saying they need. And I think in the past we had often thought we knew best as professionals. And so we said we think you should do X and we really now want to make sure that we provide all the options to survivors so that they can choose what service they think may meet their needs and what they feel will keep them safe
Karen Ortman [00:09:23] And gives the power back to them.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:09:25] Exactly.
Karen Ortman [00:09:26] So one of the biggest needs for survivors is housing and shelter, do the family justice centers have shelter beds or special shelter or housing programs for victims?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:09:36] Yes, we do a lot of work with survivors on finding safe shelter and affordable housing. For a lot of survivors that's the main reason they may be continuing to stay with the abusive partner because we need to keep a roof over our head and we all know housing is quite expensive in New York City. We don't actually have shelter beds onsite. My staff would have to be there then 24 hours. And the city actually has a really wonderful hotline, the city's 24 hour hotline, and the job of that hotline 1-800-621-HOPE is to connect survivors to domestic violence shelter that's actually operated by our Department of Social Services. So we help clients call that hotline where they'll be screened for domestic violence shelter placement and we work very closely with those city colleagues to try to make that process as smooth as possible. And then we have a new program on site through New Destiny Housing which is one of our community based partners that we call a rapid rehousing program. So for survivors that may have left the apartment because of the abuse but they're staying with family or friends or they're couch surfing. We actually can have them meet with new destiny to do kind of an intake assessment around you know how can we get you linked to a landlord to find affordable housing for you. How can we help you build credit. How can we look at your credit report and address any issues that may come up for landlords. How can we prepare you for those interviews, because those are all really challenging things. I mean I myself, right, when I'm looking for housing I'm very nervous when I'm getting interviewed by the landlord. Imagine if you have years of trauma or abuse and are going through the court system and having to do that. So we do work really really hard to make sure that we have those types of programs onsite at the centers.
Karen Ortman [00:11:22] It sounds like you really walk victims through every possible barrier that could be in front of them.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:11:28] Yes that is definitely the goal. I think that's a great way to look at it is that there are so many barriers and so many reasons why it's difficult to leave these abusive relationships. And one of the biggest is economics and housing and so we want to make sure we have programs in place to address those reasons why someone still may be in an abusive relationship.
Sabah Fatimah [00:11:50] What services can you get at a Family Justice Center?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:11:56] It is a long list. So the services you can get at the Family Justice Center really are comprehensive. We start with risk assessment and safety planning and linkage to case management because we firmly believe that when you're ready to seek help you need someone in your corner. You need a guide, you need an advocate, and so that case manager is going to engage in what we call risk assessment, which honestly is just a fancy term for talking to you about what's going on right now in your situation and how safe you feel because you may be choosing to stay in the relationship, and so how can we make sure that if you're doing that you have a plan, right. That if physical violence happens maybe you know where you should be going. You have a bag packed. You have code words with a neighbor. Things like that. And then if you're leaving what is that plan. So we have that, we have the case management. We have a lot of criminal justice advocacy because we have our district attorneys offices onsite. Every one of them is a lead partner and they're the office that prosecutes a domestic violence arrest. So if someone is arrested for perpetrating intimate or domestic violence they prosecute that crime. We can link you to them. We have NYPD onsite as I mentioned to file a police report. We have ongoing individual and support groups for survivors. We have wellness services. We firmly believe for survivors, it's like a new thing, we all need wellness in our lives. And I think we often have been like, let's make people talk about it. Let's go to counseling. That model doesn't work for everyone, right. You may be talked out but you may really enjoy going to a yoga class or a meditation class. And so we have those services onsite. We also do a lot of work with economic justice and connecting people to career and work readiness programs. Our Manhattan Family Justice Center opened a new client classroom recently where we have ongoing career readiness classes there. We have computer time at our family justice centers. We help people with shelter and housing advocacy. We have lawyers onsite to do those really important legal consultations on immigration, on divorce, on eviction if you're getting eviction notices. We have long term housing programs that I mentioned and I'm sure I'm forgetting - oh, we have a children's room which is really important because someone listening may be thinking, I have a child. You know, what do I do with my child if I want to come in and get services. And we have these beautiful children's room. I want to stay in there.
Karen Ortman [00:14:16] So important. You’re right, so many people do have children and that's a consideration so they're not going to get help for themselves if they have to worry about where they're going to put their kids.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:14:26] Exactly. And then we have practical assistance which I don't think we talk about enough, that sometimes people just need, you know, access to a food pantry or access to a clothing closet because you fled really quickly and you don't have those things. And we have the ability to help people if they need to apply for public assistance to get back on their feet as well. Snap and food stamps and things like that.
Sabah Fatima [00:14:44] I should have asked what services do you not offer.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:14:48] I warned you that it was a long list. I will also say that for some survivors it may be intimidating to think about going into a big building in a downtown location that has law enforcement presence onsite even though we don't force you to engage with law enforcement if you're not ready. But we are so lucky to have these strong community partners where you can call the hotline and get linked to their neighborhood offices. Right. That may feel less intimidating to start there and then they all know about the family justice centers and can link you to those centers if that seems to make sense as well. So really we as a city want to make sure that we provide a lot of different routes and options for survivors to get help.
Sabah Fatima [00:15:29] Yeah. Are all the services free?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:15:31] All of the services are free. Isn’t that wonderful?
Karen Ortman [00:15:34] Everything that you just said?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:15:36] Everything I just said is free.
Sabah Fatima [00:15:40] I will make my way down there. Just kidding.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:15:41] I mean, I think that the city really has put a lot of commitment and energy behind and really is saying to New Yorkers that we want to make sure you get help and we want to make sure that we're here as a city for domestic and gender based violence survivors and that you know what all of the options are, right.
Karen Ortman [00:16:01] And your safety matters.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:16:03] Exactly.
Sabah Fatima [00:16:04] What are the hours or does someone need to make an appointment for it?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:16:07] So the hours right now are 9:00 to 5:00 for walk ins, we are always open in the evenings for ongoing appointments - for counseling appointments and children's counseling appointments, support groups and family literacy programming and other programming we have which we have recently expanded our walk-in hours. So at our 3 busiest centers, so in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens we have one night open a week as well. And we really would love to see that expand. So because we know for everybody it doesn't - you're not always available from 9:00 to 5:00. We're not available yet on the weekends but you can also call and if you say you know I need to come in at 5:00. Can someone make an appointment for you. We can do that as well so you can call the center's main lines which are listed on our website and we can arrange for that.
Sabah Fatima [00:16:53] Even when they're not open.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:16:54] Yeah, even if they're not open from that 9 to 5 period. If you come in at five or five thirty we can make sure someone's there to see you for your first appointment.
Sabah Fatima [00:17:01] Are the family justice center locations confidential?
Jennifer DeCarli [00:17:05] They’re not actually confidential because we are actually co-located with so many of our partners and the district attorneys offices buildings and in city buildings. But there is a huge level of security onsite for people so that they feel safe coming in. Domestic violence shelters are confidential. So those are confidential by state law. But the family justice centers themselves we want to make them accessible for everyone. We want them to really be a visible symbol that the city takes this issue very seriously. But we can absolutely assure people that everything you say to someone at a Family Justice Center is confidential. The only exception for that is when advocates and social workers have to disclose if child abuse is occurring or if someone actually makes threats to harm themselves or others. That is the only time that we're going to violate confidentiality - and I shouldn't even say violated - it's more just that we are mandated to disclose that. Other than that everything you say at a Family Justice Center all of the services you get are completely confidential.
Sabah Fatima [00:18:05] That's great.
Karen Ortman [00:18:07] So you've said a lot.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:18:09] Yes, I have lots to say.
Karen Ortman [00:18:12] But I will still ask, are there any new initiatives or programs that the family justice centers are working on going forward.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:18:21] Yeah. One of the new initiatives, we're always trying to improve our programming and respond to the needs of survivors and really make sure that everything we're offering is actually effective, right. Because we don't just offer services that aren't helpful to survivors. So two of the newest things we've done that I'm quite proud of and that I actually think your listeners should know about is that we're trying to better respond to technology abuse and we actually have a partnership with NYU through Cornell Tech. We have partnered with them to do what we call digital privacy checkups where survivors can actually come in, meet with someone from Cornell Tech and we plug in their phone to this amazing app that all of these very smart people at Cornell Tech built and NYU has been an amazing partner in this and they will scan the person's phone to see if there is anything on it that they're unaware of. Right. I know spyware is probably not what we say anymore but spyware and things like that if people have different people accessing their accounts that they're unaware of. And so then they can have a conversation with them about that, what it means ,whether or not they want to use that as evidence in a criminal justice case and they do a conversation around technology abuse and safety planning. It's been incredibly helpful for survivors even survivors where nothing is found, just the reassurance that there is nothing on my phone, that I am not being watched is so important because technology is really a tool for abusers to continue to harm and stalk survivors. So that's been really really wonderful and we've just launched that within the last year at every one of our family justice centers. And then the other initiative, we're trying to make sure that survivors voices are at the forefront, that we're always being guided by their experiences. So we've recently launched a satisfaction survey in 10 different languages at our family justice centers. We also recently launched a client advisory group called “Voices” to really make sure we're hearing back from our survivors. And we also recently launched kind of ongoing focus groups and ways for survivors to give us dialogue and to have dialogue with us and make sure that we're where we're providing the services that they need.
Karen Ortman [00:20:35] And you're making them part of the conversation which is so important and probably not as common as we would hope it.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:20:43] Yeah, I think we've learned a lot of lessons over the years and we need to honor the experiences of survivors and make sure that they are guiding the services that we're delivering as a city and as community based organizations.
Karen Ortman [00:20:56] Well. Thank you. Thank you for all the information.
Jennifer DeCarli [00:21:00] Thank you for letting me come onsite, I mean onsite, see I'm thinking like I'm at a Family Justice Center -come to your show and talk about this because I think it's so important for people to know what services are out there so thank you for allowing me to do that.
Sabah Fatima [00:21:12] Thank you for providing all that. And thanks for joining us on today's episode of You Matter.
Karen Ortman [00:21:18] If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their victim services unit by calling 212-998-2222.
Sabah Fatima [00:21:37] For more podcasts like these you can find us by searching for “You Matter” on Apple podcasts or Google Play.