Windham County parent-child visitation service closes

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(Hosts) Supervised visits between children and parents in volatile situations are about to become more difficult in Windham County.

The county’s only supervised parent-child visitation service closed this past weekend.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Parents and Children Together or PACT, has been serving families for years without a lot of notice. Outgoing executive director Gay Maxwell says parents and children end up in supervised visitation for a variety of reasons.

(Maxwell) “They can range from domestic violence to mental illness to substance abuse. There can be a situation where there’s such volatility that that child cannot be around those two people without there being high amounts of anxiety for that child.”

(Keese) PACT operated visiting centers in Bellows Falls and Brattleboro– spaces where children and parents who don’t have custody can be together.

(Maxwell) “But do it in a way where he or she is supervised, where he or she agrees to a set of guidelines on how they’ll behave in the room – for instance, not allowed to ask questions about the custodial parent – not allowed to pepper the child with questions about what’s going on at home.”

(Keese) Sometimes a test for alcohol consumption is involved. The non-custodial parent is searched and may be asked to give up his or her car keys to minimize the threat of abduction.

PACT was one of a network of non-profits around the state to provide these services. They’re funded by a patchwork of grants from the federal government and the state. But the programs also require constant fund raising by volunteer boards. And this spring, Pact’s board voted to disband.

Board members cite a combination of factors. Part of it was the struggle for funding. Part of it was the resignation of Maxwell and another key employee. Maxwell, who is only part time, says she needs a full time job. She says the board’s worked long and hard.

(Maxwell) “And I don’t blame anybody. I don’t think perhaps the need for this is in the consciousness of a lot of people. It’s a relatively new kind of social service and not a lot of people need it, but when they need it, they really need it.”

(Keese) Often the supervision is ordered by the court. Family Court Judge Karen Carroll says PACT’s demise will have a big impact.

(Carroll) “Without PACT we’re really at a loss as to where these supervised visits can happen, unless the parties can come up with an agreed-upon person, which is usually very difficult when you’re involved in contested litigation.”

(Keese) Carroll says she expects to see an influx of motions for hearings on visitation orders that can no longer be satisfied.

Maxwell says she’d like to see the state take more responsibility for the services. Vermont’s Department of Children and Families administers the grant money for the programs.

But the Department’s Commissioner, Steve Dale, says he believes private, non profit social service contractors can do the job. He says his department will work closely with the local community to find another group to take on the service.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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