Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Programs in Chicago

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Author: Legal Aid Bureau of Metropolitan Family Services
Last updated: May 2007

Note:The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act and Paternity Act changed on January 1, 2016. The most up-to-date information can be found in the following articles on Parentage (formerly Paternity), Divorce, Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (formerly Custody), Parenting Time (formerly Visitation), and Child Support.

In 2002, the City of Chicago began participating in the federal Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange grant program. The city partners with three community-based visitation centers, located throughout the city, to provide to Chicago residents free supervised visitation and safe exchange services between parents with a history of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or dating violence.

What is supervised visitation/safe exchange? 

Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange are services that provide the opportunity for a non-custodial parent to have a relationship with their child(ren) while maintaining the safety of the victim, and all other family members using the services. Supervised visitation, provided within the context of serving families with a history of domestic violence, consists of utilizing a safe and violence-free space to facilitate visiting between a non-custodial parent and their child(ren), under the supervision of an adult trained specifically in domestic violence. Safe exchange consists of a trained adult used to facilitate the transfer of a child between the custodial and non-custodial in a safe and violence-free space, which prevents contact of the two parents.

While supervised visitation and safe exchange are services that may be utilized in a number of different family situations, the City of Chicago funds the visitation centers to provide these services to victims of domestic violence and their children only. The centers are funded by the city to facilitate these services between family members in which a parent has custody of their child(ren), and do not provide services for families whose children are in foster care or wards of the state

Why supervised visitation/safe exchange?

Supervised visitation and safe exchange are frequently court ordered at the point in the parent’s relationship when the adult victim is separating from the abuser. Research shows that this time period, immediately following separation, is often the most dangerous for the victim and their children. Supervised visitation and safe exchange are services that, when provided by individuals and visitation programs with a domestic violence element, provide a safety component essential to the safety of victims of domestic violence that utilize these services. The services provided by the visitation centers involved in the Safe Havens grant in Chicago are unique in this respect, and are greatly needed in the City of Chicago.  

The demonstration experience indicated that consumers of supervised visitation and exchange services want these services to be provided by community based service providers, and that the services, while informed and educated about domestic violence, be provided without stigmatizing the abuser. It is also important that the agencies providing the services have a sense of the cultural nuances that their clients embody, and offer services in a culturally humiliative manner. These additional components are well integrated into the organizational philosophies of the visitation centers providing services under the Safe Havens grant, and the staff and management of the programs continually work to provide excellent service to their client families while maintaining the crucial safety component of the programs.

How do these services protect the victims of domestic violence and their children?

The supervised visitation centers have developed service protocols that protect both the parent victim and the child(ren), including:

  • Staggered drop off and pick up times so that the parents have no contact
  • Monitored visits on site
  • Supportive assistance offered to the visiting parent
  • Interruption or termination of visits if necessary
  • Debriefing with a child and custodial parent after a visit

The contact information for the three Chicago visitation centers is below. Perspective clients must contact the individual agencies to make an appointment for intake in order to begin receiving services.

Apna Ghar
Sharon Kayser, Executive Director
4753 N. Broadway
Suite 632
Chicago, IL  60640
(773) 334-0173

The Branch Family Institute
Brenda T. Thompson, Executive Director
3139 W. 111th Street
Chicago, IL 60655
(773) 238-1100

Mujeres Latinas en Acción
Maria Pesqueira, Executive Director
2124 W. 21st Pl. (Main Office)
Chicago, IL  60608
(773) 890-7676

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