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Center planned for visits

Council secures grant for facility

POSTED: April 18, 2012 4:00 a.m.
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Barron

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A supervised visitation center planned for Dawson County aims to address domestic and dating violence that can occur during child custody exchanges.

The project began in October when the Office on Violence Against Women awarded "The Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant" to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in Atlanta.

The grant program was established in the 2000 Violence Against Women Act. According to its Web site, the council is just the second recipient in Georgia.

The council asked three area nonprofits to become involved, including No One Alone, which has been providing safe haven to local family violence victims for 20 years.

The grant will pay for the creation of a supervised visitation and exchange program in Dawsonville, court protocols and procedures and a coordinated community response to violence against women and children in custody cases or proceedings.

It awards $400,000 over the course of three years, which began in November.

"There are not many projects in Georgia that provide supervised visitation for domestic violence cases, but there is a great need," said Marina Barron, executive director of No One Alone.

"There are a lot of victims that as they try to leave a bad situation they are unfortunately abused again when they exchange the children. Studies have shown that two years after the separating there is a higher incidence of homicide, sometimes in front of the children."

Barron believes the visitation center will offer a safe place for victims of domestic violence.

"The project is really tailored to enhance the safety of victims and to provide a place where visitation is supervised," she said.

The other nonprofits working with the council and NOA are the SAFFT Visitation Center and Forsyth County Family Haven, both in Cumming.

"Our goal is to begin implementing services within the first quarter of calendar year 2013," said Stefanie Lopez-Howard, the council's planning and evaluation program coordinator.

"Before being able to do that, we have to submit a revised budget, site plan and our policies and procedures to the Office on Violence Against Women."

According to Howard, the project is limited to $50,000 in its first year, since the facility is in the planning stages for the next 12 to 18 months.

The Consulting Committee for Dawson County, including representatives from the three nonprofits, as well as Dawson County officials, will determine possible locations and plan the facilities policies and procedures.

Barron believes the visitation center will help take stress off local authorities.

"I know that when you talk to law enforcement, they would love to see a place like this because what happens is a lot of victims call the sheriff's office asking if they can exchange [children between parents] there because they want to feel safe," she said.

One of the greatest benefits will be protecting the children, according to Barron.

"What happens right now is that children are being exchanged in parking lots," she said. "Children continue to be exposed to verbal disputes. We know that's not healthy for their development and it's risky for the child and the mother.

"So providing a space where this visitation could be supervised allows less stress for children and clashing between parents."

Once the center is established, NOA's role will be to provide support.

"We will meet with all the women or men that drop-off the children who are the victims. We will be able to provide services to them and connect them to resources in the community," she said.

Over the next months, the consulting committee will review and establish policies and procedures for the center using advice from judicial partners.

"We hope the Safe Havens initiative brings crucial, ongoing services that domestic violence victims and their children need to remain safe from harm and to continue the separation process," Howard said.

The committee meets from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the Dawson County Government Center.

 

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