Domestic Violence Group to Build New Family Justice Center in Waterford

Family Justice Center coordinator Ken Edwards and Safe Futures CEO Kathie Verano speak to a group of community and staff members about the new Family Justice Center in Waterford on March 21, 2024 (CT Examiner).


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WATERFORD — The New London-based domestic violence organization Safe Futures will be breaking ground this year on a new Family Justice Center on Route 85, which could be completed as early as 2025. 

Safe Futures CEO Kathie Verano told community members at a Thursday meeting that victims must currently travel around the region to get necessary services. Instead, Family Justice Centers, a model that originated in California, consolidates essential services — legal support, police and child care — into a single space. 

“We don’t make it easy for victims. They have to go from place to place to place,” she said.

In 2020, the agency hosted a two-day strategic planning conference with experts from San Diego and other community organizations to discuss the potential creation of a Family Justice Center in Waterford.

Last year, Safe Futures served 10,000 domestic violence victims in southeastern Connecticut. Their services reach people in 21 towns, as well as the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations. According to data provided by the organization, 37 percent of the criminal and civil court dockets in the New London and Norwich courts in 2023 were domestic violence cases. 

But based on the area census, Verano said, the actual number of women dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking in southeastern Connecticut is closer to 25,000. 

The organization purchased an 11-acre land parcel on Route 85 in October 2021 using funds from the sale of a building donated by the Clark Keenan family, an office building donated from Sumner and Sumner real estate, and an anonymous donation. Verano told CT Examiner that the price was originally close to $1 million but dropped to $450,000 during the pandemic. 

Verano estimated the cost of constructing the new building at about $8 million, although she said costs keep escalating as time passes. Construction costs are being funded by a $5 million state bond, as well as the organization’s own funds, donations and some bank financing. 

The shelter’s first floor will feature a police substation, providing a 24-hour police presence and security for victims at the Family Justice Center. This allows victims to file complaints against their abusers without needing to visit their local police station. Thanks to a mutual aid agreement among police departments, victims from one southeastern Connecticut town can file reports with any local police department in the area. 

The ground floor will also house a virtual courtroom, where victims can testify during court proceedings without having to be in the same room with their abuser. Project coordinator Marie Kenny said victims can experience “secondary trauma” by being in those settings. 

“If you’ve ever been in a courthouse, forget trauma-informed. They’re overwhelming,” Kenny said. “The abuser is there. The abuser’s family or friends are there. They’re elbow to elbow in the hallways.” 

The state’s attorney and the Department of Children and Families will also have offices in the center. The center will include child care services, an industrial kitchen that doubles as a training facility, a chapel, a dry food bank and a donation area.

The building will not house victims due to the need for confidentiality and safety, but Safe Features will maintain its satellite walk-in counseling offices in New London and Norwich, along with its transitional housing program in New London. However, it plans to sell its administrative building. 

The facility’s grounds, once a Christmas tree farm, now offer nature trails and play areas. Additionally, Verano noted the outdoor space could be used to run Camp Hope, a two-week summer camp for children with adverse childhood experiences.

“When I got out of that car and saw those pathway cabins, in my head, [a] vision there, of those kids being able to walk through those nature trails, to have our weekend campouts — it’s just absolutely amazing,” Verano said. 

An ‘absolute game changer’ 

Safe Features has a series of volunteer-led subcommittees focused on coordinating service delivery, building design, fundraising, community engagement, and managing the criminal and civil court process. Those recommendations will make their way to the building’s Steering Committee and up to the agency’s Board of Directors. 

The Steering Committee includes the state’s attorney for the district of New London, an intimate partner violence specialist at DCF, the New London and Waterford police chiefs, a labor and employment attorney, and representatives from the Child and Family Agency and the Arc of Eastern Connecticut, among others. 

Ken Edwards, a retired police officer with the New London Police Department and the Family Justice Center coordinator, said he was once taught that domestic violence was a “family affair” and that the best resolution was to “have the guy take a walk down to the corner bar for a while.”

“I’m sitting in the seat saying, ‘This can’t be correct. This can’t be right. There’s no way that this is how we should handle these things,’” Edwards recalled during the Thursday meeting. 

While on the police force, Edwards called the then-Women’s Center for advice and started offering training. At age 25, he became the group’s first male board member and continued working with them throughout his career. After leaving the New London Police Department, Edwards worked for the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office. Verano then called him to lead the Steering Committee for the new Family Justice Center.    

“This is going to be an absolute game changer. It is the most important thing to happen to family violence since the Women’s Center was founded here in eastern Connecticut,” he said.

People wishing to donate can call Jane Cable at 860-447-0366 or email 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.