After County Executive Jan Gardner (D) signed a corresponding bill last July, County Council members have finalized the 17 members who will sit on the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC).

County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) sponsored the legislation and will sit as the council representative on the council with several attorneys, officials of social service organizations in domestic violence fields and other members.

One of the members will be Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith (R). Brett Engler, an assistant state’s attorney who worked with Fitzwater to create the council, said Smith will lead the efforts on meetings, but she will still be heavily involved, as she has prosecuted hundreds of domestic violence cases in recent years.

The council will review many areas, including sentencing guidelines, how to prevent offenders from re-offending and looking at not only survivors, but children involved in domestic violence disputes, as well.

“It’s just an issue that touches everything,” Engler said.

Engler and Fitzwater worked directly with Inga James, executive director of the Heartly House, to draft the council guidelines. The Heartly House provides housing and numerous other services for county residents who have experienced domestic violence.

James said it was clear from the start the council would need to be a “multidisciplinary group” that would approach domestic violence issues from multiple angles. That includes how to improve access to not only legal services, but counseling, housing, substance abuse assistance other areas, she said.

The criminal justice system can provide some relief for survivors of domestic violence, but not everything, James said. To come up with solutions, the DVCC has attorneys in several fields, ranging from the state’s attorney’s office to those representing survivors to those representing offenders. It also includes leaders from social service agencies and public health officials.

“We need to start recognizing that recovery comes from wrap-around services and meeting as many needs as possible … after a while, the benefits of the justice system tend to be outweighed by the negative aspects,” James said.

Robin Grove is another social worker who will be sitting on the DVCC. She has spent almost two years as director of Frederick County’s Child Advocacy Center.

Grove, who spent eight years at the Child Advocacy Center in Winchester, Virginia, before moving to Frederick County, said children “are often the silent or hidden victims of domestic violence.”

According to the D.C.-based American Academy of Pediatrics, about 30-60 percent of abusive partners also abuse their children.

Since Grove has started, there definitely has been more awareness on that front, she said. But there can always be improvement, something the DVCC aims to address.

“Kids are usually those victims that, you don’t think about that, [because] you’re focusing about the victim at hand, and the child might have been in a different room but heard something,” Grove said. “I think there’s always room for improving that and increasing that awareness to the community.”

One challenge the DVCC might face lies in the size of its group: 17 members were named to it and confirmed by the County Council on Feb. 16.

James thinks the group could break off into subcommittees. For instance, breakout groups could focus on law enforcement, the courts and social services.

It will also be important to stick to issues within Frederick County, officials said.

“If we ... try and solve too much on the front lines statewide, we’re not going to be as creative and agile as we need to be,” James said.

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Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

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