The Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program (Supervised Visitation Program) was established by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. § 10420). It provides an opportunity for communities to support the supervised visitation and safe exchange of children in situations involving domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. The Supervised Visitation Program is operated by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

 

The purpose of the Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program (Supervised Visitation Program) is to enhance safety for children and adult victims by increasing opportunities for supervised visitation and safe exchange, by and between custodial and non-custodial parents, in cases involving domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. Supervised Visitation Program grantee communities must be grounded in the belief that domestic violence is criminal behavior. Services provided should reflect a clear understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; the impact of domestic violence on children; and the importance of holding offenders accountable for their actions.

The Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Program (Supervised Visitation Program) was established by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. § 10420). In 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) developed and implemented a four-year demonstration initiative to examine promising practices in the field of supervised visitation and safe exchange.

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Eligibility for the Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program (Supervised Visitation Program) is governed by statute (42 U.S.C. § 10420). It mandates that a state, Indian tribal government or, unit of local government apply for and maintain the grant and that grantee communities establish community working groups. All applicants are required to enter into a formal collaborative working relationship with state, tribal, or local courts and a non profit, nongovernmental domestic violence or sexual assault victim services organization to expand the scope of existing services for supervised visitation and safe exchange of children in situations involving domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and child abuse.

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The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides national leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women through implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Created in 1995, OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies, and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

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Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange
  • What is supervised exchange?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

A supervised exchange is really a service that allows for the exchange of children when there has been domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking and there’s a court order that says the mother and the father simply can’t have contact with each other, but the court is allowing access. So, it is moving the child from one parent to the other without the parents having any contact in any way. Often what happens is that one parent drops off the child and then the other parent picks up the child, but the child is transferred from one parent to the other with a supervised exchange staff person.

  • What models of supervised visitation and safe exchange are currently in use?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

There are a number of different models of supervised visitation and safe exchange that are being used across the country. The most common is one-on-one supervision where you have a monitor, a parent, and the child. There’s also group supervision, third-party supervision, onsite, offsite, the use of relatives, and I’m sure there are some others, but those are typically what we see.

When thinking about the model of visitation you want to use there are a couple of things to consider in particular, one is safety. How can you most safely provide this visit for this family? For example, a family where you have a parent who is constantly trying to pass messages or hand letters or use the child in a particular way to get back at that other parent, you would not necessarily have a group supervision setting where you wouldn’t have constant, real intensive, contact with that particular family. You would want to consider what are the needs, what are the safety risks before you were to decide between group supervision or one-on-one supervision.

Then capacity, what is the capacity of your center to really be able to meet the needs of the families coming and needing services. Some programs do one-on-one and they have one or two visits at a time because that’s what they can manage or some centers may do group visits because they can meet a greater need in the community for the families needing different types of services.

It’s important, safety number one really should determine the type of visit or model of visit that you want to provide, and two, what is the capacity and that capacity is also linked to how you can maintain safety for everyone using your services.

  • What is the role of a Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program (Supervised Visitation Program) Center?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

The supervised visitation center is set up to provide, first of all, a safe place for a child that has been a victim of domestic violence to have a safe location to visit with the non-custodial parent, to provide and keep the parent and the child safe during visitation exchanges. Also, it is to hold a batterer accountable for violence or abuse during permissible visitation exchange and to provide very critical referrals from court and other services.

  • Why does our community need a Supervised Visitation Program?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

Supervised visitation programs are needed in most communities because most communities, in fact every one I know of in this country, has some experience of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence. So, this is a real critical service when someone is considering whether they’re going to leave.

For example, if a woman is being battered and she is planning ahead, most women spend a lot of time thinking about this, they are going to be thinking about their children. They are going to want to know, “When I separate from this man, what’s going to happen with my children? Are my children going to be safe? What kind of access is there going to be?” If a community has a supervised visitation program, battered women then have this safe haven, or this place that they know, that their child can go to still have contact with the other parent, but it’s going to be in a safe environment.

Absent of a supervised visitation program, what we do know is that people try other alternatives which are often not as safe, and so they are using family members, they are using friends, they are using public places. We simply know that those places are just not as safe because no one is monitoring there, there isn’t security, they aren’t tied into a community collaborative. Communities are really seeking and wanting this because post separation we know is the most dangerous time for battered women, their children, victims of domestic violence, so this is a really critical time to set up this safe haven, this place where children can still have access to their other parent, but it is in a safe place.

  • Where does the money come from to operate the Supervised Visitation Program?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

Some grantees are funded under the Violence Against Women Act implemented by the Department of Justice. Other grantees are funded in part from the Department of Justice, but also from other sources.

  • Who should belong to the core collaborative and why?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

The core collaborative consists of a unit of local government, be it state, tribal, or local unit, a supervised visitation center, the courts, and a domestic violence program or sexual assault program. The core collaborative is an essential requirement of the Supervised Visitation Program.

  • What are the programmatic limitations for Supervised Visitation Program grantee communities?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

The scope of the funding for the Supervised Visitation Program is limited to certain activities and, therefore, precludes other activities including, lobbying, fundraising, research projects, therapeutic visitation, batterer intervention programs, mediations, cases involving the criminal representation of victims who may be charged with crimes, remodeling of buildings, including minor renovations, and certain other activities.

  • Can Supervised Visitation Program grantee communities offer services to families involved in child neglect cases?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

The scope of the Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program is limited to supervision of children in exchange by parents involving situations of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, child abuse, or stalking cases.

  • How long does it take to get a Supervised Visitation Program up and running?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

It really depends on the community and what you already have in place. Many communities are starting from scratch to start a supervised visitation and safe exchange program and some communities have an existing program and have recently received funding through the Office on Violence Against Women to provide supervised visitation and exchange to families experiencing domestic violence.

Some important considerations that I think are more important than really thinking about an exact time-frame are to review your policies and procedures and are they designed in such a way that centralizes safety for adult victims and their children, that incorporate the values and beliefs of the Safe Havens grant program, and that are considering providing visitation and exchange in a way that is sometimes different than some of the other models. Where safe exchange and visitation really came out of a child welfare model or an access model, and we’re thinking specifically about safety for adult victims and children, we really need to have some other considerations.

To get your center up and running you have to have policies and procedures, you have to have a site that really meets the needs of both survivors and their children as well as the Safe Havens grant program. Many of you who may be in an existing program and just received Safe Havens grant money may now be development grantees. This process can take up to a year or even longer to really revamp, to bring together a community collaboration, and to look at your policies and practices in a way that will now meet the safety needs of adult victims and their children.

Based on your community, what you have in place, and the time it takes to build the foundation and that is a really important piece, to really build a foundation of your center that is considering safety in a way that is different than some programs that have been existing for a long time.