Mission and History: Dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence
The mission of the Center for Family Advocacy is to promote a zero tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence. This policy is promoted by providing lay advocacy services, legal advice and representation, information and referral, and other related services to survivors of domestic violence. These services are delivered both independently and in collaboration with the judicial system and other service providers including nonprofit agencies, law enforcement, the educational system, concerned citizens, elected officials and community leaders, and business/industry in Southern Maryland. Specifically, the Center shall provide any survivor of domestic violence with timely and free access to the professional services of advocates and attorneys, regardless of age, gender, race, creed, color, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, marital, social, or economic status, or any other demographic or psychographic factors. The Center shall oversee programs that provide direct delivery of services with special emphasis on the needs of women as primary victims and children as secondary victims.
In 1978, the St. Mary's County Commission for Women conducted a study that identified several weaknesses in how services to women were delivered in the County. In conjunction with faculty members from St. Mary's College, members of the Commission also discovered that women in crisis and women facing significant change in their lives - sometimes unwelcome change, and sometimes long-awaited - had difficulty accessing information and obtaining the assistance and support necessary to adequately address the crisis or change.Women's advocates from the community determined that the unmet needs of the women of St. Mary's County could best be answered with a clearinghouse, of sorts, a center that stood as a common point for information, referral, assistance and support. It was also determined that this clearinghouse would be most productive as an independent agency, although a supportive relationship would still exist through shared funding sources, fundraising activities and common goals. Thus, in response to the Commission's study and the findings of advocates for women - all coming about during a time of increasing awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence, as it happened - the Center was founded in September of 1979. Over time the advocates' initial assessment has proven accurate: the region still needs access to a range of supportive services geared toward protecting the most fundamental rights: safety, security and a strong voice in the justice system. These services are provided by a network made up of the Center, the Courts, law enforcement, shelter and counseling providers, and other stakeholders in the battle against domestic violence.
When the Center opened its doors - as the St. Mary's Women's Center - its first mission was to serve displaced homemakers. The Center was housed in half of an old trailer located where Wal-Mart now sits on Route 235, and operations were funded entirely through donations from the community; staffing was exclusively volunteer. In 1981 the Center acquired funding to hire its first staff: a part-time director and a part-time secretary. In 1988, the Center underwent significant changes in mission and services after participating in a survey conducted by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC). As a result of the survey, staff became aware of the lack of legal avenues available to victims of domestic violence who were seeking relief from abuse through the court systems in the tri-county area of St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles Counties. As a result, the Center focused its mission and objectives toward providing services to these underserved victims, a focus the tri-county courts have supported wholeheartedly.
Today, the Center, which is now known as the Southern Maryland Center for Family Advocacy, employs ten staff members: a full-time director and deputy director, three full-time attorneys who specialize in family law and domestic violence law (one of who is the 'Supervisory Attorney', overseeing the Legal Department), a full-time office manager/Intake Specialist, and three full-time court advocates (the Advocacy Department, which is managed by a Supervisory Advocate, rounds out the staff). The Center's offices are located on Mervell Dean Road in Hollywood. This location, new to the Center in February 2004, is accessible to public transportation, providing vastly improved access for our clients throughout Southern Maryland. The new location also provides improved accessibility to the courts for legal and advocacy staff. The new office has numerous improvements, as well: it offers greater safety and privacy to clients, is family-friendly, with a children's play area, and offers space where client groups can be conducted. Offices are also maintained full-time within each of the three Southern Maryland Counties: our courthouse offices are located at the District Court buildings in Calvert (Prince Frederick), Charles (La Plata) and St. Mary's County (Leonardtown). The bulk of the services provided by the Center are related to Protective Order proceedings for victims of domestic violence (including stalking), while the remainder of services address other domestic law issues arising out of situations involving domestic violence, including custody, child support and divorce proceedings. Our staff also perform in-depth follow-through with clients during the Protective Order period, and work closely with other agencies providing services such as housing & emergency shelter, counseling, and other support for victims. Our staff is also available to provide education with the Southern Maryland community.