Legal Services to Victims of Family Violence Grants Awarded

The History and Impact of the Legal Services to Victims of Family Violence Project
 
Across Georgia, seven grantees — both large and small — use state appropriated funds to give domestic violence victims a second chance. Named the Legal Services to Victims of Family Violence Project, the $1.7 million state appropriation (FY 2012), administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts, allows local agencies to pay for legal services for their neediest victims. The Legal Services to Victims of Family Violence Project money promotes safety, stability, and economic security for Georgians in need. The funds may be utilized for temporary protective orders, custody issues, child support, housing, and other civil legal services.

In FY1999, the Georgia General Assembly first funded the grant program with a $2 million appropriation. Since that time, the General Assembly has continued to appropriate money to this crucial program. In FY2011, 4,535 domestic violence victims in Georgia and their children received civil legal services from this grant, representing  fewer than 1% of the victims in need of services. “This appropriation is a good investment for the state. Spending this money on victims and their children helps save lives,” said Ms. Marla S. Moore, AOC Director. Ms. Moore continued, “The money used at the victim’s most crucial time prevents the state from spending more money after the fact — on child protective services or foster care.”

altIn FY 2012, the AOC awarded money to seven grantees statewide. Two of the grantees received the money for the first time. AOC staff presented checks to both the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center and Fair Haven in Wayne County. These two agencies in opposite corners of the state brought together supportive local stakeholders for the presentation. The Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, represented by Executive Director Katora Printup and Legal Advocate Sue Jordan, received their check from Chief Judge William Boyett, Superior Courts, Conasauga Judicial Circuit and Chair of the Judicial Council Domestic Violence Grant Committee, on November 18, 2011. Fair Haven brought together Senator Tommie Williams, Chief Magistrate Gary Browning, Ms. Julia Burch, Sheriff John Carter, Ms. Chrissy Boyles, Esq., Ms. Kim Juarbe, Ms. Samantha Jacobs, Esq., Ms. Frances Reddish, and Ms. Terry Thomas for the November 3, 2011, event.

It began in 1994... contributed by Ms. Linda Klein, Esq.
My interest in helping the indigent victims of domestic violence began in 1994 when I was first elected Secretary of the State Bar of Georgia. I began receiving phone calls from women who were having trouble finding help. These calls changed my life. Without legal advice on matters of access to education for their children, credit, housing, and child support, many felt compelled to return to the abusive household. As I learned, volunteer lawyers were not able to help. They were not well trained in these issues and were rightfully fearful for their safety and the safety of their staff and families.

When legal services were reduced on a national scale in 1995, there wereoffice closings, staff layoffs, and a decrease in services. Unlike other states, the Georgia legislature had never appropriated funds to help provide legal services. Georgia Legal Services and Atlanta Legal Aid, with their budget crisis, could not assist most of those who sought help. The existing programs could only provide assistance for TPOs. What these victims needed were services beyond a Temporary Protective Order: services such as access to child support, medical care, schools, and housing.

In 1997 as I was becoming State Bar President, I asked the State Bar Committees on Access to Justice, Women & Minorities in the Legal Profession, and the Advisory Committee on Legislation to help develop a legislative request. Chief Justice Robert Benham, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and sixty-six community groups joined in our request. 

During the holiday season we asked local, specialty, and minority bars to hold their holiday party in honor of the nearest shelter. We called it Season of Hope. Lawyers donated toiletries, diapers, bunk beds – the outpouring was incredible. This got publicity for the legislative request in local newspapers across the state. Television also covered the story, even in the Atlanta market.  

Political polling showed that 80% of Georgia taxpayers favored the use of their money to help the indigent victims of domestic violence. We shared the poll and other background material with legislators. We showed that with state funding, legal services could provide assistance for financial stability in the areas of subsidized housing, child support, employment, food stamps, school access and medical insurance. This was a substantial savings for taxpayers. Legal services lawyers would also save lives with this appropriation. They could help keep children away from the abuser because children left in violent situations will become violent adults. Last, but not least legal services lawyers would offer training to the Georgia Indigent Defense Council and pro bono lawyers. 

We predicted we would help 4,000 families with a $2 million appropriation. We were wrong. We helped 6,000 in the first year. Every year since thousands of Georgians have benefitted from this program. Countless lives have been saved and millions of dollars have been saved as well. 

What’s the Impact? contributed by Ms. Caroline White, Fight Abuse in the Home, and Ms. Katora Printup, Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center
While there are tens of thousands of domestic violence victims in poverty who could benefit from civil legal services, relatively few of them have access to these live-saving services. For those who do, it can be the difference between staying and leaving an abusive relationship.

Survivors of family violence face many obstacles and hardships as they strive to create violence free homes for themselves and their families. Safety is paramount. The availability of quality legal services is instrumental as survivors work toward this goal. The grant has allowed several agencies the ability to offer victims an opportunity to seek further protection from an abuser through temporary protective orders. Now victims and their children can request the courts mandate an abuser leave the home and refrain from contacting her. This has allowed abused women and children to stay safely in their own home.

One victim who has benefited from the Project said, “I stayed with my abuser for years because I wanted my children to have a home and sleep in their own beds. After my abuser beat me up in front of my children, I knew I had no choice but leave. I was so thankful when I learned that I could get a temporary protective order and keep my children in our house instead of uprooting them to a shelter. I was scared but knew I had the law behind me if he ever showed up. For the first time in years, I felt like I had taken charge of my life and I felt in control. I never thought it was fair that abused women had to leave their homes and take the children away from their things to seek safety. An abuser should have to leave and that is exactly what happened for me.”

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