Students from Sequoia Pathway Academy donate items needed for the soon-to-open Maricopa Family Advocacy Center co-managed by Lt. Richard Aguirre (left). Students collected and donated blankets, stuffed animals, toys, juice boxes, snacks and personal care kits. Submitted photo

After more than three years of work, the Family Advocacy Center is about to open its Maricopa facility.

Mary Witkofski, community programs manager for the Maricopa Police Department, is a co-manager of the new FAC with MPD Lt. Richard Aguirre.

“One thing you need to know first is it is not a shelter. It is an investigational function of the police department,” Witkofski said. “It is a one-stop shop for a victim of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence or strangulation.”

It also helps victims of neglect and senior abuse. The center minimizes trauma and re-victimization by limiting the number of interviews and medical examinations.

She said victims go to this facility instead of going to the police department or a hospital.

“They come here, and they get a medical exam. The investigation is completed within this building. They also get victim services and victim advocacy while they are there,” she said.

The new FAC in Maricopa will serve western Pinal County, and not just the City of Maricopa.

“We work with the Pinal County Forensic Medical Office to provide 24/7 nurse response,” Witkofski said. “There are prosecutors who are located within the building if we need them to respond. The Department of Child Safety comes out if there are children involved. There are mental health professionals who can be involved at the same time.”

The remodeling of the building was paid for by a grant from the Ak-Chin Indian Community. Resources to sustain the operation of the center for the next five years are from the six financial stakeholders: Dignity Health, Community Alliance Against Family Abuse, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Casa Grande Police Department, Maricopa Police Department and Winged Hope Family Advocacy Foundation.

Community Alliance Against Family Abuse will have an office in the facility.

“A lot of the work done inside was provided through donated services, volunteers and local business support. Winged Hope will help with the fund-raising activity for the center for four years,” Witkofski said.

There are two other Family Advocacy Centers in Pinal County in Eloy and San Tan Valley. With the centers located so far away, victims of interpersonal violence have to drive 45 to 60 minutes for specialized assistance the centers offer.

“And that’s the reason for the center in western Pinal County,” Witkofski said.

She added the center will open “at some point in January,” and an exact date has not yet been determined.

The Family Advocacy Centers are a coordinated response involving several agencies and run through the Pinal County Attorney’s Office. It states is mission is to “protect and empower our most vulnerable by providing a victim-centered, team approach to investigating and prosecuting crimes of personal violence while facilitating recovery and healing of crime victims.”

The center incorporates a multidisciplinary team approach to abuse investigations and prosecutions. The staff consists of representatives from: Pinal County Attorney’s Office, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Pinal County Police Agencies, Department of Child Services/Office of Child Welfare Investigators, Phoenix Children’s Medical Group, PCAO Special Victims’ Unit Prosecutors, Forensic Interviewers, Victim Advocates, Community Mental Health Providers and Children’s Justice Coordinator.

“There are a lot of local business that make this new center possible. We started working on this project in July of 2015,” Witkofski said.

Groups and organizations have been gathering donations for the center. Items still needed are onesies, T-shirts, adult clothes, clean new underwear, children’s snack items, toys and juice boxes.

“We are always accepting donations,” Witkofski said.

For more information or to donate to the Maricopa Family Advocacy Center contact the Maricopa Police Department at 520-316-6800.

 

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