The History of Irving Family Advocacy Center
The Genesis for FAC: Response to Juvenile Crime
In the 1970s, the State of Texas revised the penal and family codes to allow counseling as an alternative to prosecution for juveniles accused of crimes. The police department was supportive of this change, although it was prohibited from providing counseling services. In response to rising juvenile crime, a group of concerned citizens and police personnel evaluated several other cities’ counseling programs, including Dallas and Carrollton, in order to develop a framework of what would initially become Irving Neighborhood Youth Services.
The Early Days
The agency opened on January 20, 1980. The inaugural board of directors secured a $20,000 seed grant from Grace Presbytery in Dallas, payable in installments over the first 21 months, to get the program started. The board hired its first Executive Director, who also served as director for the Carrollton Police Department’s program. He then hired two, part-time counselors for Irving: one conducted intakes and ran groups for adolescents; the other, a trained family therapist, provided counseling for adolescents and their parents. The agency received referrals from juvenile investigators from the Irving Police Department, with a goal of diverting adolescents from the juvenile justice system and, instead, providing them counseling to resolve their issues.
The center welcomed its first adolescent clients in March 1980. The first year, therapists saw a total of 138 adolescents and 150 adults.
In 1981, the center launched a First Offender program, a two-night educational program with presentations from counselors and a police officer. This program has enrolled over 9,000 youth and parents. Also, this year, the board voted to change the name of the organization to Irving Youth/Family Counseling Services.
In the early 1980s, the City of Irving included a budget line-item for IY/FCS for the first time, contributing $20,000. The remaining $14,800 of the center’s budget came from generous donations from the community.
IY/FCS launched a pilot program with counselors from Irving High School and its two feeder middle schools in 1983, seeing referrals from the schools of adolescents who might be at-risk for future problems, whether in school, in home or in the community. This opened the door for the agency to broaden its services to anyone in need in Irving, not just adolescents referred through the legal system.
The agency hired its first on-site executive director in 1983, ending its relationship with the counseling agency at Carrollton Police Department. IY/FCS also began to negotiate contracts with area universities to utilize interns to help see clients. This practice continues today, with the FAC program a highly sought-after training ground for master’s and Doctorate-level students.
A New Funding Model
After years of successful fundraising, the agency struggled to meet payroll in 1987. Two groups stepped up to aid in this crisis: Grace Presbytery (the original benefactor) and the Irving Police Association. In search of a longer-term solution, the board and the Police Department approached the City of Irving and requested the city add the executive director of the agency to the city’s payroll. This would help stabilize the funding of the agency and allow the agency to provide benefits to the executive director.
As the demographics shifted in Irving, IY/FCS had to adapt its programs to better serve Spanish-speaking families and children. The agency began offering its First Offender program in Spanish, utilizing a bilingual intern to run the group sessions. Bilingual services continue to be a hallmark of our programs today
Program Recognition: Collaboration Key to Success
In 1990, IY/FCS and its programs were recognized by the Police Foundation following its extensive national research into police departments’ handling of juveniles and model programs of response. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention funded the Foundation's research, which highlighted Irving’s program; the Foundation identified as a key to the program’s success the collaborative effort between the Police Department and members of the community to solve the problems of juvenile crime.
In discussing this collaborative approach, the Foundation said: "the important point here is not to recommend Irving's approach to the diversion of juvenile offenders, although we would have no trouble doing so. What is important is that with assistance from the police, Irving has rallied local support to develop and sustain programs that would likely not otherwise exist."
The close collaboration among the Police Department, the counseling department and the community continue today.
The agency found similar success in its collaboration with the local school district. With the support of an anonymous donor, IY/FCS launched a behavior modification program, Contracts and Bonuses, that incentivized youth to make positive changes in their lives. The program was integrated into the schools with the help of the district’s counselors, who helped draft and track behavior contracts with at-risk youth.
A Period of Growth: New Services and a New Building
In 1995, the agency agreed to take referrals from Irving Police Department’s newly formed Domestic Violence Unit. This would be one of many steps the agency would take in expanding its services to include clients impacted by violent crimes.
In 1996, the board voted to secure funds to build a permanent facility that would allow the agency to continue to expand its services, while providing space for all collaborative partners to be housed under one roof. The goal was to minimize the number of touchpoints and places a victim would have to endure to tell his or her story and get the support he or she needed: investigative resources, prosecution/protective services, and therapy were all together in one place. The facility, which opened in 2001 at its current location in South Irving, was renamed the Family Advocacy Center and included the Domestic Violence Unit, Sex Crimes, and Child Abuse Units of the Irving Police Department; the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (known as CPS); and the Dallas County District Attorney.
In 2020, the Family Advocacy Center building was renamed to honor the contributions of community volunteer Carol Susat, who dedicated decades of her life and endless time, talent, and treasure to helping the organization grow. Carol began working with the FAC in 1982 as a volunteer and joined the board in 1996. She served as president of the board from 1997 until 2019, an unprecedented tenure of leadership.