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Bar News - November 19, 2014

Manchester YWCA to Reopen for Supervised Visitation

Future of Upper Valley and Plymouth Visitation Centers Uncertain

After suspending the service earlier this year to revamp protocols and security measures, the Manchester YWCA this month will begin offering supervised parental visitation services to families one day a week.

A new round of federal funding enabled the organization to hire a trained and certified security officer for one day each week, said Monica Zulauf, who left her position as YWCA president and CEO on Nov. 14.

The YWCA has already begun taking calls from families and creating a waiting list for supervised visits, but the day that visits will be available had not yet been determined as of early November.

The YWCA was the site of the tragic August 2013 shooting death of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon by his father during a parental visit. In the aftermath, the organization has taken numerous additional precautions leading up to restarting the service.

“We’ve changed some of the policies and procedures here to really minimize the risk,” said Zulauf, adding that she preferred not to detail the new security measures. “We’ve talked to people all across the county about the best ways to do this.”

The YWCA received $83,000 as a sub-grantee of a federal Justice for Families grant that the NH Attorney General’s Office applied for and will administer (The NH Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program also is a sub-grantee). Zulauf said the YWCA had hoped to apply for federal funding independently, but the invite-only grant round required that the state include the same grantees that were part of the previous Safe Havens grant program, which the federal government recently eliminated.

Along with reducing funding levels from what was available under Safe Havens, the federal government now requires that grant-funded visitation centers no longer charge families for supervised visitation.

“We always had a sliding scale, so it was not something that would preclude someone from being able to do a visit,” Zulauf said. “If they had money, we wanted them to pay part of the cost. It’s a very expensive service.”

In addition to paying $25 per hour to have trained security personnel on-site (about half the cost of a police detail), the YWCA pays staff members to prepare for, schedule and supervise each one-hour visit. The full cost to clients previously was $75 per visit.

Emerge Family Advocates

Also slated to receive funding under the federal Justice for Families grant that the state recently received was Emerge Family Advocates. But the federal Office of Violence Against Women has suspended that funding pending the results of an investigation by the Vermont Attorney General, which has already resulted in the full Emerge Board of Directors being asked to step down.

Based in White River Junction, Vt., Emerge provides visitation services for families in the Upper Valley and at a facility in Plymouth, NH. Emerge Executive Director Mona Russell, who is reportedly on medical leave from her position, is chair of the New Hampshire Family Visitation and Access Cooperative.

A coalition of Upper Valley nonprofits has been tasked with figuring out how to continue serving families who were using Emerge centers for visitation. A special trustee has been appointed to take control of the organization’s books.

Lebanon lawyer Thomas Trunzo, a former Emerge board member, tipped off the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to possible irregularities with the organization’s financial records in a letter last April. He filed a lawsuit in September that made similar accusations and asked for similar relief as an action later filed by Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Russell has denied any wrongdoing.

As part of its regular monitoring of organizations that receive federal funds, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office planned to review Emerge’s financial records in early November, said Sue Dearborn, criminal justice programs specialist at the NH Attorney General’s Office.

In New Hampshire, only the Merrimack County Visitation Center in Boscowen receives local government funding. The county pays for a significant portion of the center’s operations, and the county sheriff’s department provides security.

The Challenges of Visitation

Zulauf, who is leaving her 37-year social services career to become director of the Kimball Jenkins Estate and Art School in Concord, called the funding and the dynamics of crisis services “challenging.” Despite the shared goal of the courts, advocates and families to keep children safe, she said, supervised parental visitation remains a difficult service to provide for financial, political and social reasons.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “New Hampshire’s not big on stepping in. And it’s one of those services where often everyone involved doesn’t want to have it happening.”

Fathers’ rights groups often oppose the court’s use of supervised visitation orders, while victims’ rights advocates tend to oppose child visitation with dangerous or violent parents, she said.

And sometimes it ends up that a victim of domestic violence is ordered to have only supervised child visitation, Zulauf said, because she was “out-lawyered in court.”

Zulauf also reflected on the big picture.

“It’s not just domestic violence. I look at families that are struggling. The working poor are losing ground every year. I’m really concerned about our lack of resources for early childhood education, affordable housing, good paying jobs for people without a high level of education... And I don’t think we’re doing a good job of socializing our young men as to what we are going to expect from them. I think we do a really good job of rallying around girls, but I don’t see people rallying around boys right now.”

The Manchester YWCA Board of Directors had not yet selected an interim president and CEO as of press time.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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