Increase Up Your Voice: Holding kids protected throughout custody exchanges

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Often times, children find themselves in the middle of situations of domestic violence. Not only can they see and hear things that have remained with them long after childhood, but sometimes they themselves are put in danger.

Raise your voice: law enforcement is here to help

The YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program offers a range of programs and services to protect domestic violence survivors, both old and young – including the Angel Center for supervised parent-child visits and exchanges.

“We realized twenty years ago that there had to be a safer space for children to exchange,” said Julie Haden, program director of the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program.

Often times, even in public places, custody transfers and visits can get hot. The goal of the supervised visit and exchange center is the safety of the children.

“We hear about disruptions in the public or in people’s homes almost every week in family courts when there has been an attempted child exchange and something goes wrong,” said Pamela Lorensen, domestic violence attorney for Kanawha County.

The center wants to limit this by having one parent or guardian park on one side of the building and the other on the other side. A member of staff picks up the child, registers them, and then takes them to the other end of the building to meet the parent or legal guardian. They also have a number of child-friendly rooms available for supervised visits.

The use of the center can be ordered by a court and transferred yourself and is absolutely free. Lorensen says many of the people originally told to use the facility keep coming back.

“They keep coming here because they feel it’s a safe place,” said Lorensen.

According to the YWCA, a total of 57 families used the center last year with 443 visits and 395 exchanges. They say those numbers are lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have no doubt this center saved lives,” added former Kanawha County Family Court Judge Mike Kelly.

Kelly has seen firsthand the effects domestic violence can have on a child. According to a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, children who experience violence between parents may also be at higher risk of becoming violent in their future relationships.

Judge Kelly was instrumental in the Court of Justice’s pilot program on domestic violence and a pioneer in the use of visiting and exchange programs to protect survivors. Not only does it help parents and children stay safe, but it has proven to be an invaluable tool for family judges who receive a report for every case the center is used.

“(We know) who showed up, who didn’t, who played, who was cooperative. It gives us a chance to look back at this case and see if we need to make some changes for a child’s safety or if it works the way it is, ”explained Kelly.

He added, “This center made my job so much easier … I took personal responsibility for each child when I had their case. I wanted to see her grow up happy and alive and this was an invaluable tool to achieve that goal. ”

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