Family Visitation Center in Mundelein ensures safe custody exchanges
Recently, a child custody exchange in a parking lot in Rolling Meadows led to a dispute, physical altercation, and a man being shot.
Fortunately, in this case, there were no fatalities. That is not the case every time. Nine years ago, the Family Visitation Center in Mundelein was established to help prevent these violent, emotionally charged, and sometimes tragic incidents that involve children.
"Police officers and judges had noticed a dramatic increase in the number of divorces involving minor children with a related order of protection," said Pat Davenport, chief executive officer of A Safe Place.
"And they were concerned, because many custody exchanges and visits were taking place in unsupervised parking lots. One child had been dropped off alone at a restaurant and the other parent never showed up, which led to DCFS being called."
A task force was formed to find a solution to this lack of safe visitation and exchange services for the several thousand children who come in contact with the court system each year as a result of abuse or neglect, or because their parents no longer wanted to live together.
A grant was submitted to the federal government, and the Mundelein Family Visitation Center, managed by A Safe Place, was one of 13 approved visitation centers in the United States at that time.
Established in 1978, A Safe Place serves victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in the Chicago area and Lake County.
Along with the Family Visitation Center, A Safe Place provides lifesaving services to victims and their children, such as shelter and safe homes, counseling and therapy, and legal advocacy; assists the whole family in transforming their lives after domestic violence with continued life skills support; and prevents future abuse through abuser intervention programs and education on healthy relationships for middle and high school students and community members.
Last year, A Safe Place touched the lives of more than 29,000 people, including helping to facilitate 1,270 custody exchanges and 1,003 family visitations for 116 families.
At the Family Visitation Center, staff help ensure a safe, structured, and nurturing environment for children to visit with their parents in situations where the court has determined that restricted visitation is necessary to protect the child's safety and well-being.
With separate entrances and parking lots for mothers and fathers, the Family Visitation Center makes stressful, and sometimes dangerous, interactions calmer and safer for everyone involved.
Inside, the child-friendly environment has toys, games, movies and quiet reading areas, which help foster healthy, nurturing and lasting parent-child relationships.
"The ultimate goal of the Family Visitation Center is to ensure that both parents remain in their children's lives, regardless of what happens in the adult relationship, and that the children, as well as the adult victims, are safe," Davenport said.
Families may use the Family Visitation Center voluntarily or can be referred by the Family Court, social services, attorneys, or victim services agencies. If you are interested in signing up for the program, call (847) 731-7165 to start the orientation process.
"Providing a safe, neutral environment for the transfer of custody in appropriate cases not only reduces the likelihood of a violent encounter, but it also serves to protect the child by shielding them from any trauma that they may experience by witnessing conflict between parents. We wholeheartedly support the Family Visitation Center," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said.
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