For the City Times
Visitation program highlighted in May
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The Wisconsin Rapids Family Center’s Supervised Visitation and Exchange Program is one of the many services provided at the nonprofit agency to victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. All services are at no cost to clients.
The visitation program staff acts as a neutral, unbiased third party for families, independent of any judgement, for the best interest of the children. While many referrals come from the court system through restraining orders or bond conditions, services can be parent-initiated, program coordinators said.
As part of the awareness effort, The Family Center will host a display on the second floor of McMillan Memorial Library during May for Supervised Visitation Awareness Month. The program was featured on WFHR 1320 AM’s Morning Magazine on April 25. A short video can be viewed between regular programming on River Cities Community Access.
In 2016, the program conducted 1,734 individual exchanges between parents who share custody of their children, and provided 625 individual visits with parents and their children. In 2016, the program served a total of 122 children and 92 victims – 87 families, a 41 percent increase in visits over 2015.
The Family Center added the visitation program in 1998, when staff became aware of parents who shared custody were exchanging their children at less-than-ideal locations, including fast food, grocery store, or gas station parking lots. It was the first visitation program in Wisconsin to be based in a domestic violence agency, and other programs have since modeled their programs after The Family Center’s facility.
Off-site exchanges can increase stress not only parents, but children, as well.
“A lot of times those interactions (between parents) are very negative and that is what causes a negative effect on the child,” said Diana Jinsky, one of the program coordinators. “When they come to our facility, they know what to expect; they know they’re not going to have that negative exposure, so it’s a safe environment.
When the new Family Center facility was built in 2004, a 1,945 sq. ft. space was dedicated to the visitation program, compared to the 300 sq. ft. area previously available. There is a play area, fully-functioning kitchen, and other amenities to provide families with a home-like atmosphere. Families can cook, play games, watch movies and more during their visits.
During supervised visits, a parent will come into the facility and visit with their child. The visit usually consists of the custodial parent bringing the child or children to The Family Center visitation area. Each parent has a separate waiting room so neither party has to have contact with the other parent, Jinsky said.
“We allow the child to lead the visit,” Jinsky said. “We want this to be a positive interaction with the parent. The more patience you can give the child in the long run, it’s going to be so much better.”
Parental exchanges are similar to supervised visits, with separate parking lots and waiting areas.
“At no time do those parents or guardians come into contact,” Jinsky said.
The Family Center acts as a go-between for families going through custody and visitation issues, said Kayla Weiss, another coordinator for the program.
Most visits, scheduled one month ahead, usually last about one hour, she said. Parents are encouraged to bring in activities the parent and child can enjoy together.
“We try and focus on the positive, and that (we) are attempting to facilitate that interaction with the parents that they might not receive if they weren’t at our facility,” Weiss said. “(The children) are able to have that safe, neutral environment, to see their parents and that’s ultimately what’s best for the child.”
The Supervised Visitation/Exchange Program is available by appointment 365 days a year, including weekends and holidays at no cost. Call The Family Center at 715-421-1559 for more information.