On Friday, October 23, Delaware’s Family Visitation Program celebrated its 20th anniversary with an open house at the Milford location. The centers provide safe supervised visitation and monitored exchanges for families that may not otherwise have access to their children due to domestic violence situations.
“Over 90 percent of the people who use our service do so because it is court ordered,” said Blanche Creech, Director of Turning Point who assists in overseeing the centers along with other state agencies. “Our main goal is safety, safety, safety. The two spouses never come in contact with each other as we have separate parking lots and entrances. The parent who is court-ordered to use the center must arrive 15 minutes before their appointment and must wait 15 minutes after the other spouse leaves before they are permitted to leave. We have video monitors in all parking lots and in all the rooms in the center as well as security guards on site at all times.” Ms. Creech said that the majority of those ordered to use the visitation centers are not pleased that they must have supervised visitation or must exchange their children there. She said that the abusers often try to manipulate the system in order to “run into” the other spouse.
Ms. Creech said that if a parent ordered to use the center arrives late for an appointment, even if it is only a minute or so, the appointment is cancelled and they are not given access to their children. This is to protect the other spouse from being exposed to an abuser. The service provides an added level of safety and protects the children from witnessing altercations between their parents.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the centers provide a safe alternative for victims of domestic abuse while allowing the abuser to remain in contact with their children. The majority of domestic violence victims are women and almost five million women are assaulted by a significant other each year. According to Ms. Creech, a number of assaults each year occurs during child exchanges that are unsupervised.
“We provide a service that is much safer than meeting at a fast food restaurant or parking lot,” Ms. Creech said. “It is much less traumatic for the children to reunite with a parent in a fun, safe environment than in the parking lot of a police station or a restaurant. In addition, all of our staff is trauma-trained with an understanding of the emotions that can exist in domestic violence situations.”
The centers charge a fee for the exchange or supervised visitation, but they are very low, sometimes as low as $4. According to Ms. Creech, some domestic abusers would not be permitted to have access to their children if the judge did not have the option of ordering them to use a visitation center.
“On behalf of Family Court, I wish to thank you for the work you do here at the center,” said the Honorable Bill Walls, a Family Court judge. “Too often, as judges, we are faced with a situation of taking initiatives that will be in the best interest of the children who need to have a relationship with both parents.. The centers provide a safe location for parents to meet with their children in order to maintain a relationship with them while keeping them from access to the spouse who they abused.”
Jessica Reed, the Program Manager for the Family Visitation Center in Milford, provided tours of the facility to those in attendance at the open house. There are rooms that allow parents to have private visitations with their children, although all interactions are videotaped. There are times when the courts request copies of the tapes so all footage is stored should they be needed by the courts.
“We are always looking for donations of toys and games for all ages of children,” Ms. Reed said. “We need all age ranges, from infant to teenagers. We will accept video games, board games, toys, anything people want to donate. We do require that the toys have no connection to violence, such as guns, including Nerf guns, violent video games or board gamest that encourage violence.” Anyone who wishes to donate items to the center can learn more by calling 302-424-2420.