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August 13. 2013 10:44PM

After Manchester YWCA tragedy, child visitation centers eye security

MANCHESTER — Recommended procedures for supervised visitation centers in New Hampshire call for non-custodial parents to be put through metal detectors, a procedure that could have prevented Sunday’s tragic murder-suicide at the YWCA in downtown Manchester.

But a check of supervised visitation centers in New Hampshire found that each approaches security differently. Some stick to a flat-out policy and enforce precautions that rival those of airports. Others use a “balancing act” to avoid making visitation a negative experience for the child.

On Sunday, Manchester resident Muni Savyon shot and killed himself and his 9-year-old son at the YWCA Supervised Visitation and Child Exchange Center on Concord Street. Savyon had made threats to the child’s mother, and could only see his son during supervised visitations. (Related story, Page A8.)On Monday, Manchester YWCA director Monica Zulauf said metal-detector wands are used sporadically at the Manchester center.

However, an undated protocol available at the Manchester YWCA website lists minimum security measures for visitation centers.

They include staggered arrival and departure times for parents, separate building entrances for parents, collaboration with local police, and metal detectors.

Minimum-security measures include: “use of metal detectors at a minimum for the non-residential parent entrance, and at both entrances when possible, or when warranted by the risk assessment,” the policy reads.

The policy was developed by the seven-member New Hampshire Family Visitation & Access Cooperative, of which the Manchester YWCA is a member. Zulauf did not return a telephone call on Tuesday.

Police officer present

In Nashua, supervised visitation is handled at the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, which follows a strict protocol.

The supervised parent must empty all pockets and undergo a scan by a hand-held metal detector operated by a police officer.

Michael Flaherty, chief operating officer, said each parent uses a different parking lot and entrance.

The goal is to ensure the parents do not run into each other while on the property.

A police officer is on the premises at all times, outside in a hallway and is no more than 22 to 25 steps from the visiting, Flaherty said.

He said the center chose to hire a police officer.

‘A big balance’

Phil Wyzik, executive director of Monadnock Family Services, which operates All R Kids Supervised Visitation Center in Jaffrey, said its procedures are similar to those at the Manchester YWCA.

No officer is on duty and a metal detecting wand is used occasionally.

“It’s a big balance of providing a secure location with the positive experience for the kid and family,” Wyzik said.

Before All R Kids opened, visitations were held at the Peterborough police station, not an ideal location for a parent/child visit, he said.

On Tuesday, the Concord Monitor quoted Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, who said his deputies use metal-detection wands on all non-custodial parents who show up at visitation centers in Boscawen and Franklin.

The last several years have been difficult for supervised visitation centers. Of the seven that developed the protocol, two — located in Salem and Plymouth — no longer exist. And in Strafford County, a county-funded center opened, then closed.

Feeling the pinch

Scott Hampton, executive director of Dover-based Ending the Violence, said efforts are underway to receive federal grants to re-open a Dover center. Hampton, a psychologist who works with batterers and stresses child safety, said some centers run on a mix of federal, state, local and private donations.

The New Hampshire Department of Justice distributed $626,500 in grants to five visitation centers according to a tally provided Tuesday.

Most came from grants from the federal Office on Violence Against Women; $35,000 came from the state victim assistance program.

Visitation centers have felt the pinch in the last several years, Hampton said. Some have closed rather than compromise on safety.

“What centers need to do is come up with strategies for enhancing or ensuring safety,” Hampton said.

Some centers use metal wands, others walk-through metal detectors.

Some have off-duty police on duty. Others use security guards, Hampton said.

“There’s a lot of variability,” he said. “One thing that’s not variable is a focus on safety. They have to consider every family (using the center) as dangerous.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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