A new family visitation center officially opened last week in Middletown.
Safe Havens Family Visitation Center in Middletown brings Delaware its sixth visitation and exchange center.
These centers offer a monitored space for children meet with non-custodial parents or be transferred between parents in cases where there is a history of domestic violence.
“There is a counsellor, a degreed professional person in the room monitoring the visit, assisting with engagement essentially— so helping the family find things to do together. And limiting conversation that is not good for the child or the parents’ safety,” said Deianna Tyree, director of domestic violence services at the non-profit Child, Inc.
Tyree says these centers also give parents the option of dropping off a child for the other parent to pick up for the weekend, for example.
Key elements of these centers are the separate parking areas and entrances for parents and staggered arrival times— to keep victims of domestic violence safe.
In partnership with the state, Child Inc. runs two other family visitation centers in New Castle County— but Tyree says the new Middletown center is the first to have a waiting area for custodial parents to hang out or nap during visitations.
“We have people who ride the bus, and we have people without a lot of resources,” she said. “So it doesn’t make sense to run their gas out to go back home, to go back and forth. So this solves that problem.”
Of the three centers Child Inc. now runs, the new Middletown location is the only one where services are completely free to all customers.
Ceasar McClain, Social Services Senior Administrator for the state Office of Community Services, says users of family visitation centers are usually referred through Family Court. He adds that people can be referred through churches or community centers, or can self-refer.
McClain says the new Middletown location will increase the state’s capacity to provide safe visitation services.
“The Office of Community Services conducted a needs assessment and determined this was the greatest underserved area for this program,” he said.
McClain adds it took roughly five years to get the center up and running because of federal grant funding restrictions regarding where the center could be located.
The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services is the primary grant recipient for the center, and Child Inc. is the sub-recipient and service provider.
According to the Child Inc., the two other family visitation centers the organization runs in New Castle County served more than 300 parents and caregivers last calendar year.