By Tyler Hummel Main Street Nashville

Nashville has become a leading city in the family justice movement since it opened the Metro Office of Family Safety. About 150 leaders from family justice centers from around the country are meeting for three days at the Horton Events Center on Lafayette Street to learn about Nashville’s approach to protecting victims of interpersonal violence.

Mayor John Cooper opened the second day of the Family Justice Center Alliance’s 12th annual National Leadership Summit with a short speech thanking the Metro Office of Family Safety for its work.

“There’s a strong legacy of being the first state to establish an Office of Family Safety and still one of only four states to have a department entirely dedicated to this work,” Cooper said. “If the city’s investments are a statement of principle, then Nashville got it right. … Thank you for creating a more hopeful future for others with your work in the years ahead. Thank you for being here in Nashville. It’s the right place to be.”

The Office of Family Safety was established in 2013 in collaboration with the San Diego-based Alliance for Hope International. It is a state government department that provides resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, childhood abuse and elder abuse.

“When the Nashville planning started eight years ago, we were so excited to support Diane (Lance) and the vision she had to support the Family Safety Center,” said Casey Gwinn, the president of Alliance for Hope International. “We’ve been joined at the hip ever since. What you’re at today is leaders from all over the country coming here for our 12th annual summit to profile the center because it’s now the biggest framework in America. It’s now the largest family justice framework in the United States.”

Diane Lance, director of the Office of Family Safety, said she felt honored to host the event in her city and to be profiled as a leading representative of the family justice movement.

“We are one of the only cities with a governmental department focused on interpersonal violence,” Lance said. “Just like police, water and parks are departments, we are a department in your government. Our goal is to improve victims’ safety and provide better accountability to make sure partners are working collaboratively.”

Family justice centers have helped cut the rates of domestic homicide in cities where they’ve been implemented, Gwinn said.

“San Diego — home of the first family justice center — per capita has the lowest domestic homicide rate in America. The highest is in St. Louis, Missouri, which ironically had a family justice center 15 years ago, but they closed after losing a federal grant. Victims are less likely to die if they have wrap-around services. They don’t just focus on helping the victim but holding the offender accountable.”

The Metro Office of Family Safety served 4,000 clients in 2020 over the course of 12,000 visits.

“This movement is the future of domestic violence and sexual assault work in America,” Gwinn said. “We can’t keep having agencies work in silence. We’ve got to figure out how to work together. You don’t want the cops alone, the prosecutors alone, the community agencies alone. We’ve got to come up to this commitment of the power of ‘we’ because that’s what survivors need.”