Open Houses Honor 20th Anniversary of Delaware’s Family Visitation Program
NEWS FROM THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES
NEW CASTLE – Delaware’s Family Visitation Centers Program, which provides safe visitation and monitored child exchanges for hundreds of families that may not otherwise have access to their children, is marking its 20th anniversary this year with open houses in Milford and Newark.
The Department of Health and Social Services and its Division of State Service Centers, including key Family Visitation program partners Child Inc. and People’s Place, are joining members of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC), Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCADV), legislators, courts, policy-level officials and other community leaders in marking 20 years of the Family Visitation Program in Delaware. This anniversary is being marked with two Family Visitation Program open houses during the month of October, which is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. National Domestic Awareness Month reaffirms and recommits the nation’s dedication to building communities where no one suffers the hurt and hardship that domestic violence causes, while upholding the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse.
Family Visitation Program provides a safe, structured, and nurturing environment where children can maintain or re-establish a relationship with a non-custodial parent, and helps to keep children, adult victims and other parties, in cases of intimate partner violence, safe during exchanges and visitation. During Fiscal Year 2015, 277 families were served statewide, with the state’s five Family Visitation Centers facilitating 1,382 monitored exchanges, 1,550 individual supervised visits, and 1,315 group supervised visits.
The first open house, hosted by People’s Place, was held Oct. 23 at the Milford Family Visitation Center at the Milford State Service Center, 13 S.W. Front St. The second, which will include remarks from Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins will be held from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at the Newark Family Visitation Center at the Hudson State Service Center, 501 Ogletown Road. Newark. That event will hosted by CHILD, Inc.
The Family Visitation program was established in 1995 due to concerns about an increasing number of deaths related to domestic violence in Delaware and related crimes. In 1992, there were 11 homicides connected to domestic violence, 372 domestic violence-related rapes and sexual assaults, and 7,955 domestic violence assaults. Two of the murders occurred while parents were meeting to exchange their children for visitation. In 1993, Sen. Blevins attended a national conference where she learned about family visitation and exchange programs. She brought back to Delaware the idea to establish a task force, including leaders from domestic violence advocacy programs, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and the Family Court.
“For 20 years, Delaware has helped to provide a safe visitation process for children and their parents, and a secure way for the exchange of children to be made,” Sen. Blevins said. “It is a difficult and challenging time for families when parents decide to separate or divorce, especially when domestic violence is involved. The Family Visitation Program offers that added measure of structure and security to help many Delaware families move forward safely.”
In 1995, with funding through the Criminal Justice Council, and additional funding from the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families, the Department of Health and Social Services opened two visitation centers for Delaware families. These Family Visitation Centers were created to keep victims of intimate partner violence and their children safe during visitation and exchange. In partnership with CHILD, Inc. and People’s Place, these important services were made available by both agencies and housed at the Hudson State Service Center in Newark and Milford State Service Center respectively.
Today, there are five Family Visitation Centers – two in New Castle, two in Kent County and one in Sussex. All sites are accessible to public transportation and are open evenings, weekends, and holidays. Fees for services are determined by income and are as low as $4. The supervised visits between children and their custodial/non-custodial parents are conducted based on the parameters designated by a court order.
Parents that mutually agree to use the center’s services can contact a center directly or be referred by social services, attorneys, victim services or other agencies. Family Visitation Centers do not make recommendations about changes in custody or the appropriateness of changing visitation arrangements. Trained staff members supervise each visit and remain neutral at all times to facilitate visitation. Safety measures that exist in Delaware’s Family Visitation Centers include separate and distinct entrances and parking areas for each parent, staggered arrival and departure times, security camera monitoring, experienced security guards, professionally trained staff, and access to interpretation services for participants who do not speak English or who are deaf or hearing-impaired. Families have confidentiality.
“The Family Visitation Centers are about meeting communities where they are, and making sure that all family members are safe during difficult times, especially the children,” DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said. “When visitation or exchanges are arranged, children need to know that it can be done without further disruption to their lives. That’s why I am proud for 20 years that staff members at the Family Visitation Centers have helped to keep families physically and emotionally safe during those critical visitations and exchanges.”
In response to a growing need to increase the state’s capacity in this area, DHSS’ Division of State Service Centers, in collaboration with CHILD, Inc., applied for and was awarded a U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Safe Havens Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program Grant. The grant’s goal is to establish a sixth Family Visitation Center in the Middletown/Odessa/Townsend area using the principles of the Safe Havens Program. The goal of the Safe Haven Visitation Center will be to increase children’s physical and emotional safety, while facilitating visitation and exchanges, and providing for the safety of adult victims and other parties in cases of domestic violence.
Funding for the operation of Delaware’s Family Visitation Program is provided by the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement, Grants to States Access and Visitation Program.
For more information about the Family Visitation Centers, referrals, and/or appointments, please call:
New Castle County
CHILD, Inc.: (302) 283-7518
Kent and Sussex Counties
Turning Point at People’s Place II, Inc.: (302) 424-2420
For more information, contact Jill Fredel, Director of Communications, (302) 255-9047 (office) or (302) 357-7498 (cell).
Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware’s citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.