Advocates for Victims of Domestic Violence Urge Council To Add Funds for Child Exchange and Visitation Center
New center would provide a safe space for victims to turn over children for court-ordered visitation
Laurie Duker, far right, the founder of Court Watch Montgomery, testified Wednesday for additional funds for a safe visitation center in Montgomery County as supporters hold pictures of domestic violence victims.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence told the Montgomery County Council on Wednesday that additional funding is needed to create a safe space for parents to turn over children for court-ordered visitation periods.
During a public hearing on the proposed county budget for the next fiscal year, advocates shared stories of women being beaten or even killed while dropping off children to former partners who had abused them.
“This is a serious gap in our safety net,” Court Watch Montgomery founder Laurie Duker said. “It’s one that we need to address.”
Duker’s nonprofit watchdog organization monitors judges’ rulings in domestic violence cases and advocates on behalf of abuse victims.
County Executive Ike Leggett included $250,000 to create the county’s first monitored child exchange and visitation center near the Rockville Metro station in his fiscal 2018 operating budget. But Duker and other advocates said those funds would only support keeping the center open for 14 hours per week and not on weekends. The advocates are asking for more funding to ensure the center would be open at least one evening per week and on weekends—times when former partners often exchange children for visitation periods.
Duker said the county’s Health and Human Services Department is analyzing how much it would cost to keep the center open more hours per week and would provide that amount to the council.
The visitation center would serve as a safe place for people who have restraining orders against their former partners or ongoing disagreements to exchange their children for visitation periods.
Fran Rothstein, vice president of the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County, noted that Fairfax County already has such a center.
“Safe visitation is a high priority for our members,” Rothstein said.
Alexandra Iannolo, an attorney for House of Ruth Maryland, said she represents women who have had abusive partners. House of Ruth provides assistance to victims of intimate partner violence.
“A victim of domestic violence who has children with her abuser will never be free from her abuser,” Iannolo said, adding that the exchanges can be a catalyst for abuse.
Iannolo noted that public places—even police station parking lots where some judges order the exchanges to take place—are not always safe. She said one of her clients was punched and slapped in front of her children during an exchange at a gas station. Another client was pushed to the ground at a mall in Montgomery County as bystanders looked on and “nobody said anything,” according to Iannolo.
Duker said approximately 75 percent of the more than 500 protective order cases monitored by Court Watch Montgomery volunteers involve parties with shared children. Visitation centers provide a place for parents to learn de-escalation techniques, she said.
“Help us write a different ending for these families,” Duker said. She added that the center would be a good first step and advocates hope to push for additional centers in Silver Spring and Germantown in the future.