WASECA — For divorced or estranged parents, exchanging children for visitation purposes can be hard. When the parents don’t get along, it can be even harder.
When the new Public Safety Building opens in Waseca later this year, parents and children won’t have to worry about hastily shifting children from one parent to another and hoping that harsh words and tension don’t accompany the switch as there will be an opportunity for supervised exchanges through the Safe Haven Visitation and Exchange Center.
Last year Waseca was awarded a $400,000 grant to create a new supervised visitation center to be housed in the new Public Safety Building.
The program will support supervised visitation and safe exchange options for families with a history of violence, abuse and/or stalking.
The safe haven’s new program coordinator, Tacie Schwartz, was hired in early August and has begun to formulate some of the policies and procedures, a mission statement and workflow practices that will go into operating the program.
“The fact that it’s brand new and I’ve started working from the ground up (on the project) has been fun and also challenging,” said Schwartz, who has eight years of experience at a supervised visitation center in Mankato.
Waseca Police Chief Penny Vought said Schwartz was selected from a pool of very qualified individuals but her experience was what made her stand out.
Schwartz attended Bethany Lutheran College and Minnesota State University, Mankato, earning a bachelor’s of science degree in ethnic studies with a minor in social welfare. Before working in Waseca, Schwartz worked with victims of domestic violence, including serving as the program coordinator for the Keep Me Safe Visitation Center at CADA in Mankato.
During the visitation times, the non-custodial parent will be monitored by staff and the exchanges can be set up so the parents don’t have to see each other if there is a history of violent or tense exchanges of the child or children.
Staff will set up the exchanges so one parent arrives at a certain time and the other parent may arrive a few minutes before or after. If there is a history of stalking, this will allow time for one individual to leave the premises and be on their way before the other arrives.
The safe haven will also have separate entrances so parents won’t have to hear one another. Sometimes, Schwartz said, that’s all a person needs to become aggravated or upset.
“In general, much of the abuse starts after a person gets out of a relationship because they’ve taken all of the power away from the abusive individual,” Schwartz said. “Last year in Minnesota, there were 14 intimate partner homicides, half of which happened after the relationship ended. So, it will be nice going to bed at night knowing there will be a safe place for parents to make their exchanges.”
Common exchange places for parents can be the parking lots of businesses, which may have cameras and may be busy, but not always, and heated situations can escalate quickly and have a negative effect on the children and the community.
“I think we all are looking forward to providing a safe and nurturing place for victims and children to go to when in need of having visitations and/or exchanges with a noncustodial parent,” Vought said. “Safety for adult victims and their children is the overarching goal of the supervised visitation program.”
When people are fighting, Schwartz said, other kids in the vicinity may witness it and it can have a ripple effect throughout families and individuals who weren’t directly involved in the exchange.
Within the Public Safety Building, the exchange space will be completely private and shut off from outside office staff so all exchanges remain confidential.
To set up an exchange, they should call the safe haven in advance to set up a time that will work for both parties. Safe haven’s hours aren’t yet set, but it will be open in the early evening to accommodate those who work a typical 9-to-5.
Safe haven employees won’t be able to give legal advice. Individuals with legal questions should still speak with an appropriate advocate or consult court administration.
“It’s going to be nice that people in the community know their neighbors will be safe. You never want to have a tragedy happen in your town,” Schwartz said. “We have to do what we can to make sure there is another level of safety and (the safe haven) provides that.”
With safe haven, said Schwartz, parents will no longer have to worry about getting kids from one parent to another. Children may also become more at ease about the transition, and better able to focus on school and positive things in their lives.
“We will be respectful to both parents. We’re not here to take sides,” Schwartz said. “Our goal is for a safe visit and for all people involved to have a good experience.”
Reach reporter Jennifer Holt at 837-5446, or follow her on Twitter at @WCNjennifer