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YWCA ending supervised child visits due to costs

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 05. 2014 10:05PM
Joshua Savyon, 9, was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a supervised visit at the Manchester YWCA last August. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — YWCA New Hampshire will stop offering supervised child visitation in the Manchester area starting next week, a decision that one divorce lawyer warned will lead to a flurry of court filings and will keep some parents away from their children.

The YWCA will discontinue the service starting on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day, because of funding issues, said Monica Zulauf, president and chief-executive of the organization. She stressed that child exchanges will continue at the Concord Street building.

“I think it’s a needed service, and I think it’s going to be hard for the families,” Zulauf said. “Kids want to see their parents.”

The visitation center was the scene of a murder-suicide last August, when Manchester resident Muni Savyon killed his 9-year-old son, Joshua, during a supervised visit.

Zulauf said the killings prompted the YWCA to hire a security service for the supervised visitations, which take place on weekends. The security service added costs to the program.

Meanwhile, new federal regulations will prohibit agencies such as the YWCA from charging parents who use the service. The YWCA charged parents up to $70 an hour for visitation.

The U.S. Justice Department regulations become effective for all grants starting Oct. 1, and the grants, which fund the majority of the visitation program, are being reduced, Zulauf said.

New Hampshire courts spokesman Carol Alfano said the court system was aware of the decision and would not comment on the matter.

A lawyer who specializes in divorce and family cases expects a flurry of filings from clients ordered to use the YWCA.

David Bailinson warned that some parents will not be able to travel to Concord or Nashua, the closest visitation centers still in operation. A privately run visitation center in Amherst closed last month, Zulauf said.

“The state needs to step in,” said Bailinson, who represented Becky Ranes, the mother of Joshua Savyon, in family court. “They need to demand these places are licensed and regulated, and properly funded and properly secure.”

The Nashua center is run out of the local mental health center. The Concord-area center is run out of Merrimack County government. Both programs have waiting lists, Bailinson said.

Bailinson said state law presumes a child thrives when both parents are involved in the child’s life as much as possible.

“Children are harmed, generally speaking, if one parent is totally eliminated from their life,” he said.

Zulauf said she has explored funding with several sources and spoken to representatives from the offices of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rep. Carol Shea Porter, D-N.H. Should anything change, the YWCA will re-evaluate opening the center.

A bill named for Joshua Savyon passed the House last week and is headed to the governor’s desk. The law would enable police and prosecutors to charge a suspect with domestic violence, which would be treated differently than an assault by a stranger.

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