The Problem: Children in homes with intimate partner 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 abusers 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.
Victims are often 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 – unless a judge carefully asks both parties questions to ascertain what danger the victim and any children are in, and then, when appropriate, requires the family to use a Safe Passage Center so the victim need not fear or experience harassment or assault.
Many children are traumatized when court-ordered to have unsupervised visits with a parent whom they fear. Some children have even been killed. A Safe Passage Center can save lives, if judges require its use in protective orders or custody/divorce orders.
Until recently, Montgomery County judges lacked a safe facility where they can send a large number of domestic violence survivors and their children for safe child exchanges & supervised visits.
- A safe, guarded, location for victims to exchange their children for court-ordered visits without contact with their abuser.
- A safe place for supervised visits when it isn’t safe for abusers to be alone w/ their children.
- Judges who take the time to assess safety and require the use of safe visitation services.
Montgomery County now provides safe visitation services at the Safe Passage Center in Rockville. The Center opened in late November and is accepting families with court orders. The Safe Passage Center is the first in a network of safe child exchange and supervised visitation centers that will keep survivors safe as they exchange their children for visits. The center also provides on-site supervised visits when unsupervised visits are deemed unsafe.
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.”
Court Watch made the difference!
Court Watch volunteers monitored over a thousand protective order hearings for more than 2 years to document the urgent need for safe visitation services. Then we advocated to secure commitments from the County Executive and County Council. Court Watch helped ensure that funds were added for interpreters, more security measures and travel subsidies for families in need.
Now Court Watch is tracking judges to make sure they require use of the Safe Passage Center when it is warranted.
What can you do?
Thank your County Council members for their unanimous vote to fund the first county Safe Passage Center. Please urge your County Council members to continue to support full funding for the Safe Passage Center in the FY 19 budget. County Council will begin work on the budget mid-March, 2018.