Local host site for supervised parental visitation closes

With the closing of Children’s Safety Centers in Cambridge, partnership forms between Center, community church

By Rachel Kytonen

Children in already critical situations due to supervised parental visitations, has just gotten more critical.

Isanti County Judge James Dehn was recently informed about the closing of the Children’s Safety Centers location in Cambridge, which was based at Next Best Thing To Mom day care. Since 1993, Children’s Safety Centers has provided a safe haven to reduce kids’ vulnerability to violence and trauma related to parental visitations.

Judge Dehn explained since the closing of the Center in mid-July, parents have had to drive over an hour for the nearest Center for court-ordered visitation.

“Put yourself in the children’s shoes,” Judge Dehn explained. “They already have enough anxiety and nervousness about the visit, and now they have to sit in car for over an hour to get to the visit, while all along probably listening to their parent complain about the drive and bad-mouth the other custodial parent.”

Judge Dehn said together with Pastor Jim Crecelius, they are looking at having Spirit River Community Center in Isanti become a host site for supervised parental visitations. Judge Dehn said the host site would operate under the umbrella and best practices of Children’s Safety Center, but it would also require the use of 20 trained community volunteers.

“The families in Isanti County and surrounding areas using the Children’s Center Centers are already in the most fragile, critical situations they could be in,” Judge Dehn said. “And with the Center closing in Cambridge, the situation went from critical to beyond critical. That is why we are so desperate to get a host site located again in Isanti County. We need to do this for the children.”

Becky O’Hara, director of development and community relations for Children’s Safety Centers, explained during the state government shutdown, the Center wasn’t receiving any funding. As a result, the Center reassessed their operations and deemed it wasn’t cost effective to have a location in Cambridge.

She said the Center served 42 families from Isanti County and surrounding areas in 2010. Statistics in 2011 show the need is continuing to increase. As of June, the Center had already served 30 families from Isanti County and surrounding areas.

O’Hara  said the 20 volunteers the host site needs to operate would have to commit to required training before they would be able to supervise visits, and commit to volunteering for one year. Volunteers will be scheduled on rotating shifts so no one would get overburdened.

“Our training program is very good, and the volunteers will feel comfortable once they are trained,” O’Hara said. “Once they are trained, they will realize they can do this.”

Judge Dehn explained the training is about best practices through the Children’s Safety Centers, and volunteers are neutral observers during the supervised visitations.

He had much praise for Children’s Safety Centers and mentioned any time he has parents in his courtroom who are ordered to supervised visitations and can’t agree on someone to supervise the visitation, they are ordered to use Children’s Safety Centers.

Judge Dehn explained all the judges from neighboring Pine, Chisago and Kanabec Counties are concerned about the Center closing in Cambridge.

“When you create roadblocks for both parents in regard to supervised visitations, ultimately it is the child who will suffer the most,” Judge Dehn said. “The child has a right to see their parents.”

O’Hara said the project in Isanti County is being used as a pilot project for Children’s Safety Centers, and if it goes well, the Center may look at doing similar projects in other communities where the Center had closings.

“This really will be a community project for the Isanti County community,” O’Hara said. “It really is about families’ lives and serving those in need.”

Children’s Safety Center provides different levels of supervised parental visitations. It also provides safe exchanges for the custodial parent to exchange children with the non-custodial parent for visitation, without any face-to-face contact.

Children’s Safety Center helps:

• Children who are the direct victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

• Children whose parents have a chemical dependency or mental illness and are unable to care for their child.

• Parents seeking to establish paternity or rebuild a broken relationship with their child.

• Court ordered parties.

• Grandparents and or foster parents seeking visitation rights.

• Families dealing with issues of domestic violence.

For more information on Children’s Safety Centers visit www.childrensafetycenters.org.

If you are interested in becoming a trained volunteer for the Children’s Safety Center host site in Isanti, call the Children’s Safety Centers as soon as possible at 651-774-4990.