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May 06. 2014 7:16PM

YWCA visitation center's closing brings uncertainty

The waiting list for child visitation in Nashua would stretch to 1 1/2 months if most of the parents who use the YWCA New Hampshire program in Manchester sign up for the Nashua program, a director of the Nashua program said Tuesday.

Already, the waiting list for weekend visitations is a couple of weeks, said Tony Paradiso, the chief operating officer of the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, which runs the child visitation center in the Gate City.

On Monday, the YWCA said it would discontinue its supervised child visitation program — the scene of the murder-suicide of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon and his father last August — for financial reasons. The agency cited costs of security and a reduction in federal grants used to fund the service.

Like the YWCA program, the Nashua program is funded in part by a federal grant.

“It wouldn’t necessarily cover us if we had to expand the level of service,” Paradiso said. The YWCA has told him it services about 25 families, he said.

Meanwhile:

• Legislation regarding visitation centers has passed both the New Hampshire House and Senate and awaits Gov. Maggie Hassan’s signature. It adds language that allows judges to specify that visitation centers must use metal detectors and trained security. It also calls for studying whether centers should be licensed.

• The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women confirmed that grant-funded visitation centers will not be able to charge fees in the future. A spokesman pointed to grant applications, which said the restrictions are to “ensure accessibility of (Office of Violence Against Women)-funded services.”

Victim support groups have an uneasy approach to visitation centers.

Without them, judges may allow unsupervised visitations in unsafe situations, said Maureen McDonald, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. But her organization questions whether resources on visitation centers could be better spent on prevention and victim services.

“What other crime would we make the victim go and spend time with the person who did a crime against them?” McDonald said.

Karen McCall said she previously worked at the YWCA and now works at a local safe place for abuse victims. She said batterers will use a visitation center for six months, earn a good report and ask a judge for unsupervised visitation.

Yet, others said the visitations centers are necessary.

“Obviously, in situations where there’s a divorce, we need to allow a child to have connection with both parents,” said Deputy New Hampshire Attorney General Ann Rice. Her agency acts as a pass through for the grants that fund the visitation centers.

Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, whose agency provides security for visitation centers in Boscawen and Franklin, said not all visitations involve a history of violence. Some involve mental health issues, contentious divorces or people who are trying to improve their parenting skills.

“We need to look at it like anything else, on a case by case basis,” he said. Still, some visits have been volatile and deputies at times must remove a parent, he said. A deputy will also refuse visitation when a parent arrives intoxicated.

Hilliard said he’s not aware of the caseload of the Merrimack County program, which is partially county funded, and whether it could accept cases from the Manchester area.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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