When domestic violence is perpetrated by children in their own homes, families are faced with a difficult decision about whether to involve the police, which can lead to incarceration and a criminal record.
In many instances families want their children to have the opportunity to “cool down” and learn how to manage their feelings of anger or frustration in non-violent ways.
That’s why King County created FIRS (Family Intervention and Restorative Services).
One of the employees who oversees FIRS is Stephanie Trollen, Legal Services Supervisor at the county’s Juvenile Division of the Prosecutor’s Office.
“FIRS is one of our best examples of innovation in criminal justice; the model rejects almost everything we do in traditional prosecution. FIRS honors families and meets them where they are,” Stephanie said. “I think it is restorative justice at its very best.”
Stephanie states that FIRS agreements are used in lieu of any formal court processing of the case, and the contracts, which are signed by youth and parent/guardian, are tailored to meet the need of each family.
The silver lining to cases such as these is that FIRS puts parents and children on a path to healing. Parents receive counseling services, mental or substance abuse experts, or any array of social services without pressing charging on their child, while the child gets a second chance at pursuing a higher education and landing the job they want without the hindrance of a criminal charge on their record.
Stephanie said that FIRS “grew out of frustration with the limited options for parents,” from her hands-on work with these cases. The FIRS team has received about 520 referrals from law enforcement and at least 265 families have entered into service agreements.
The success of the program is drawing attention across the state, with Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties now considering implementing programs similar to FIRS.
Last year, the FIRS team received a letter from a youth who stayed in the FIRS respite center for several days. He wrote, “The experience I have had here has helped me realize that what I have been doing my whole life is truly not right…I just hope all of you know that you helped change my life for the better and I would like to thank you.”
For more information about FIRS, visit the King County FIRS website.