The Supervised Visitation and Exchange Program (V&E) is a service provided by HELP of Door County, Inc. free of charge. While there are many misconceptions about the purpose and need for this program, the basic premise of what V&E does is to provide a space and opportunities for children and their parents to interact in a safer and a more conflict-free environment. Supervisors and support staff are on hand to make sure visits and exchanges occur without incident and in a more positive and relaxed atmosphere. The V&E program is not a place of judgment and the supervisor is not there to determine if the parent is a “good” parent or a “bad” parent. That determination belongs with the court system, the Guardian ad Litem, or Social Services.
Parents and children use our program for a variety of reasons. They might be court ordered due to custody issues; the parents might have restraining orders or a high-conflict relationship. These situations make it difficult to find a way to exchange children where everyone is safe. A parent that is having difficulty gaining access to their child might find this program a valuable alternative. Furthermore, the supervised parent is protected from being accused of things that do not happen. If one parent is uncomfortable about what or how the other parent is while visiting with their child, it is worthwhile to see if the program would work for them.
The legal system is becoming more aware of how domestic abuse harms children. There is a law in place (Act 130) that requires perpetrators of domestic violence to have supervised visits with their children until they have completed a certified batterers’ treatment program. Although the law is seldom used by attorneys, having the V&E program in place makes it easier for parents to have access to their children.
Supervised visits are utilized for many different reasons; a parents’ ability to maintain a commitment to their child or not feeling confident that the other parent has suitable parenting skills or an appropriate home environment for children. During these visits, a supervisor sits in the room during the visit, ensuring the conversation and the actions of the parent are appropriate and not a danger to either the parent or the child. The supervisor does not interact with the participants unless there is an incident. Another option of the V&E program is monitored visits, where the supervisor sits outside the room, still having a visual of the activity between the parent and child.
For monitored exchanges, the parents arrive at separate entrances and the child is escorted by staff from one parent to the other. The child is not exposed to conflict between the parents, the parents are assured that each parent is following the custody order, and the child has a better opportunity to experience a more relaxed and positive atmosphere. Each parent also has the assurance that if there is a restraining order, there is less opportunity of it being broken or them being accused of breaking it. Additionally, each parent has the opportunity to become more child focused and less focused on the conflict with the other parent.
HELP of Door County, Inc.’s Visitation and Exchange program belongs to the National Supervised Visitation Network and is part of a statewide group of visitation centers. The V&E program has five sites available for supervised visits and safer exchanges. These are located in Sturgeon Bay, Sister Bay, and Ellison Bay. If sites are needed outside of Door County, the V&E Program Coordinator can help locate another program. If you feel you or someone you know could make use of this program, contact HELP of Door County, Inc. at 920.743.8785 for more information.
This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence.