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Men and women seeking Protection From Abuse orders in York County currently are greeted by trauma-informed victim advocates, which wasn't the case before this year.

The new arrangement was coordinated through an agreement between the county and YWCA York program Access-York and YWCA Hanover program Hanover Safe Home.

Starting this year, volunteers from the two YWCA organizations are staffing the county's Protection From Abuse office located in the York County Judicial Center.

Staffing the office previously fell under the responsibilities of the York County Court of Common Pleas, which prohibited staff from advocating for PFA seekers because it would be a conflict of interest, since they would need to appear before the court to attain that order, according to county solicitor Glenn Smith.

Michelle Schaffer, director of Hanover Safe Home, said victim advocates had volunteered in an office next to the PFA office in the past, but now they are the initial point of contact for PFA seekers.

Schaffer said the new arrangement is important because those seeking PFAs don't always understand exactly what they want or what other resources are available to them.

The YWCA victim advocates are trained in dealing with traumatic experiences and can help people seek counseling and safety planning in addition to beginning the PFA process, if that's the path they choose, Schaffer said.

Heather Seton, chief services officer at Access-York, said the advocates are not attorneys, so they can't provide legal advice, though they can help put people in contact with attorneys if requested.

Seton said the organizations are hoping the new arrangement will help domestic-violence victims stay safe and follow through more frequently on PFA requests.

"It's a very difficult time between when someone makes the decision to file (for a PFA) and when a hearing is held within 10 days," Seton said. "There's lots of complex reasons people choose to stay and return to abusive relationships."

Seton added that it also is a dangerous time because a PFA request can escalate an offender, which is why safety planning is so important for men and women coming into the office.

The Prothonotary's Office is responsible for supervising the office on the county's behalf, according to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by all parties involved.

Representatives from the organizations will meet monthly with the prothonotary to determine whether the new process is effective until October, at which point such meetings will occur quarterly.

The office is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays except during court-designated holidays, and those seeking more information can reach YWCA York at 717-845-2631.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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