THREE YEARS ago, advocates for domestic violence victims in Montgomery County documented the need for judges to have facilities where they can send domestic violence survivors and their children for safe child exchanges and supervised visits. So compelling was the evidence of dangers caused by this gap in the safety net that County Executive Isiah Leggett said it “was a call to action” and he ordered officials to devise a plan. The studies have been completed, so we hope the county will follow through with the money needed to provide these critical services to families.
“In the Best Interest of the Child?,” a report by the nonprofit Court Watch Montgomery, looked at how domestic violence victims who go to court seeking protective orders are routinely ordered to hand over their children for visits with abusive partners in environments (fast food or empty police station parking lots) that expose victims to the risk of harassment, assault and even death. The report highlighted the new trend of monitored safe exchange sites that remove the need for any contact between parties with a protective order and also provide supervised visitation services in cases where the court has determined unmonitored visits pose a risk to the child.
Both Fairfax and Frederick counties have these centers and, Court Watch Executive Director Laurie Duker told us, “they are beautiful places that let the healing truly begin for everyone.” Not only are the victims protected, but she said everyone in the families benefits because the sites give the noncustodial parent uninterrupted and constructive time with children, de-escalate tensions and allow for opportunities for good parenting modeling. Unbiased feedback from center staff also helps judges do a better job of keeping adult and child victims safe.
The task force assembled by Mr. Leggett has identified a site in Rockville for what advocates hope will be the first in a county-run network. And county officials said that Mr. Leggett, now preparing his proposed fiscal 2018 budget, is committed to funding the facility. How much so remains to be seen, but Mr. Leggett and the council should see the urgency in answering this call to action.