Visitation program helps families |

Visitation program helps families

'Safe exchange' provides place for children, parents in crisis

Melinda Dudley

Jane Ramage, of Medford, Ore., looks Friday afternoon at a domestic abuse awareness display set up in front of the Routt County Courthouse.

— More than a dozen Routt County families have been served since Advocates Against Battering and Abuse launched its supervised visitation program in August, Executive Director Diane Moore said.

The program provides a safe environment for children whose families are in crisis. Developing such a “safe exchange” program long has been a goal of Advocates, Moore said. In 2006-07, Advocates was the recipient of $120,000 from the federal Office of Violence Against Women to plan and study safe exchange.

“Out of that came the clarity that there’s a significant need for this kind of program,” Moore said. “It’s for families with a history of conflict, whether that be domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault.”

Without an institutionalized safe exchange program, visitations frequently are left to occur under the supervision of therapists, family members or in public places, Moore said.

“If it’s not a safe environment, it can create more conflict,” Moore said.

The organization finally was able to put the program into action in August, thanks to a private donation.

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“We’re probably the only rural community (in Colorado) that has this in place,” she said.

Although the program currently is using space available at the Routt County Justice Center and through the Routt County Department of Human Services, the safe exchange program is seeking a permanent home of its own, Moore said.

“We predict that we’ll probably provide services to as many as 50 families in a year,” Moore said.

As part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Advocates placed silhouettes on the Routt County Courthouse lawn this week, representing victims of domestic violence.

Advocates also has been working on a new collaborative protocol for sexual assault examinations, in conjunction with Yampa Valley Medical Center, county law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office. Survivors of sexual assault now will have their medical examinations in a more private area of the hospital, rather than checking in to the emergency room, Moore said.

“We try to provide the best possible examination area and privacy for all exam patients,” hospital spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said.

“It’s a much more sensitive approach,” Moore said.

Advocates offers a 24-hour crisis response line, maintains a safe house with nine beds, provides assistance with civil protection orders, trains students to be peer educators, and offers several other counseling and consulting services.

Carrie Berlet will manage the safe exchange program, which accepts referrals from family members, courts, schools, attorneys and therapists. For more information about safe exchange, call the Advocates office at 879-2034.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

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