Safe Visitation Initiative
Daniel Lynch Foundation Inc.
Bonnie A. Beavers and Peter R. Mathers
Bonnie A. Beavers and Peter R. Mathers
Make A Donation
Your donation will fund materials for court monitoring to document visitation problems & staff time to build a coalition & educate policymakers.
[Read new Washington Post editorial supporting safe visitation services, “Montgomery County must mend the hole in its domestic violence safety net.”]
Tragically, there is a serious gap in Montgomery County’s domestic violence safety net. In May of 2014 Court Watch released a report entitled “In the Best Interest of the Child?” In it, we document the serious safety problems for domestic violence victims and their children created by the lack of safe child exchange and supervised visitation centers. County Exec Ike Leggett called our report “a call to action for Montgomery’s children who are exposed to domestic violence and whose lives are forever affected by their experience.”
Currently In Montgomery County:
- Victims are regularly put at risk of harassment and assault every time they follow a court order to exchange their children for a visit with an abusive partner without a program to safely provide that service.
- Many children are traumatized when forced to have unsupervised visits with a parent whom they fear. Some children have even been killed.
Post-separation violence: adult survivors
Protective orders reduce the frequency and severity of abuse for most domestic violence victims. But they don’t always end the violence. Requiring victims and abusers to be near each other in unprotected places is extremely dangerous. One study found that more than one third of women were assaulted by their ex-partners in the two years following a stay at a domestic violence shelter. Many victims in Montgomery County have been harassed or assaulted during attempts to peacefully exchange their children for visits.
Post-separation violence: children from violent homes
Children in homes with domestic violence are at great risk. Each year, from 7 million to 14 million children in the United States witness intimate partner violence. Many abusive partners also directly abuse their children. Numerous children in Montgomery County have been killed during unsupervised visits with parents who were clearly dangerous. Children killed during unsupervised visits include Brandon, David & Meagan Brockdorff; Athena, Anthony and Austin Castillo; Jacob Dunn; and most likely Prince Rams.
Moms and children deserve a safe place to go
Montgomery County judges lack sufficient facilities where they can send domestic violence survivors and their children for safe child exchanges & supervised visits — but that is about to change!
Court Watch is working with County Executive Ike Leggett’s staff and HHS personnel on the development of the first in a network of safe child exchange and supervised visitation centers to keep DV survivors safe as they exchange their children for visits. The center will provide supervised visits when unsupervised visits are deemed unsafe.
We hope the first center, which is expected to be in Rockville, will open in November, 2017. Mr. Leggett has committed to include funds for the ongoing operation of this first center in his next budget. Both the League of Women Voters and Woman’s Democratic Club are speaking out in support of safe visitation centers!
We welcome and appreciate County Executive Ike Leggett’s support for beginning to establish safe visitation centers in Montgomery County. Thousands of County domestic violence victims urgently need safe, affordable, convenient facilities at which to exchange their children for visitation to prevent harassment, injury or re-traumatization. One center in a 500 square mile county just doesn’t meet many residents’ needs. Transfer and supervision services should be available at a network of sites reachable by buses and Metro.
Court Watch will continue to work for accessible safe visitation services for all County residents. We believe an additional site is sorely needed in the Silver Spring/Wheaton area.
We’ll be counting on judges to order families to use safe visitation services
Montgomery County needs both safe visitation centers and judges who will order families to use them as part of their protective orders. Court Watch volunteers all too often observe judges granting unsupervised parental visits to confirmed abusers without adequate scrutiny of parenting patterns.
Some judges show undue skepticism of women’s claims of abuse of the children and often fail to order Child Protective Services investigations to ensure child safety. Other judges decline to consider issues like financial support, temporary custody, and changes in visitation plans that materially affect the well-being of the children.
The good news is that safe visitation services don’t have to be costly. Using existing County buildings will lower the cost. In addition, safe visitation services will save police, prosecutors, and social service providers time and money. These groups all regularly deal with assaults or trauma that occur during unsafe child exchanges or dangerous unsupervised visits.
What can you do?
Please thank Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett for supporting full funding for both safe child exchange and supervised visitation services for domestic violence victims in his upcoming budget. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The time is now! Mr. Leggett’s budget will be released March 15, 2017.
Urge your County Council members to support full funding for both exchange and supervised visitation services in the FY 18 budget. County Council will begin work on the budget March 16th, 2017.