Sam and his two sons went into hiding in 2003.
His divorce was pending and he feared the wrath of an abusive grandfather. Sam sought a court order banning his ex-wife’s father from visiting his boys, ages seven and 10.
The judge granted the order, but, Sam, who was awarded custody, wanted the boys to have a relationship with their mother. Enter the Children’s Rights Council, a local advocate group that operates three Safe Haven sites where parents can drop off their children for neutral pick-up and maintain a familial relationship through supervised visits.
Over the past seven years, the boys now ages 14 and 17, have been able to visit with their troubled mother, a woman who didn’t contest custody and who requested supervised visits.
“They have had a chance to see their mom and a chance to express their love for her and their concerns for her,” Sam said.
The Children’s Rights Council has served more than 500 such families over the past 10 years, says Margaret Wuwert, the agency’s director.
The families are referred by the Domestic Relations Division of the Lucas County Common Please Court for various reasons including alleged sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse and constant conflict between the parents.
“What we try to do is demilitarize the exchange of children from one parent to the other…These parents are really in a high state of conflict. They just can’t even do a curb-side exchange without the police being involved which is very difficult on the kids,” Wuwert explained.
The council offers two services. The first is a neutral drop-off site. There are three—Peace Lutheran Church in South Toledo, Hope United Methodist Church in West Toledo and Olivet Lutheran Church in Sylvania. One parent drops the children off 15 minutes before the other parent picks them up. That parent then returns them 15 minutes before the return pick-up. There is security present to monitor the exchanges and a waiting area.
The second service is supervised visitation. Same pick up and drop off rules apply and the typical three-hour visit is monitored by a volunteer. The visiting parent must also turn in the car keys and is never left alone with the child, Wuwert said.
Separate rooms are available for each family, if desired, and the gym is opened. The fee for the service is shared by both parents.
Wuwert is a retired social worker. She started the Northwest Ohio chapter of Children’s Rights Council 10 years ago, after witnessing how a mother denied visitation to a family member. She initially joined two other parental rights support groups but found them too “militant” for her tastes.
The Children’s Rights Council was founded in 1985 and is headquartered in Washington D.C. There are 60 chapters in 39 states and affiliates in eight other countries, according to the organization’s Web site.
The council’s mission is to assure children have access to both parents in a safe productive atmosphere. The council has lobbied congress for custody and child support issues and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
The group is funded through grants, donations and user fees.
Wuwert is seeking families who have used the council’s services to help the council celebrate its 10th anniversary. An open house will be held at Hope United Methodist Church, 4069 W. Sylvania, Saturday, February 20, from 2:00 to 7:00 pm.
She said over the years more than 30 percent of the families served have been from East Toledo and Oregon, but she has been unable to find a church in either community willing to participate in the program.
Sam, whose identity has been protected, lives in a small town east of Toledo. For more information on Children’s Rights Council call Margaret Wuwert at 419-473-8955 or go to www.crckids.org.