STEUBENVILLE — Families with issues requiring supervised or monitored visits by parents or a safe place for divorced parents to exchange children for custodial visitation now have a place to go in Jefferson County.
Coleman Professional Services dedicated its Visitation and Exchange Service at its offices at 3200 Johnson Road Wednesday, honoring the support it has received from the Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board, the United Way of Jefferson County, Toronto county court Judge Lisa Ferguson, the Hancock County Savings Bank Charitable Foundation and Ferguson’s House of Furniture.
Nelson W. Burns, president and chief executive officer of Coleman Professional Services, said the dedication ceremony was a “celebration of collaboration.”
He credited Lisa Ward, chief of Coleman’s behavioral health services in Jefferson County, with having the enthusiasm and leadership to make the center a reality.
Jefferson County had a center that was operated by the A.L.I.V.E. Shelter, but it closed in 2012 according to Kelly Bozeman, visitation coordinator for the new Coleman service.
“I can’t express my deep appreciation on behalf of the children and families of Jefferson County. That’s what this is all about,” Burns said.
He said Jefferson County “really works together and really communicates to try to solve community problems. This is one wonderful example.”
He credited Judge Lisa Ferguson of the county court at Toronto with being a leader on making the center a priority. Her son, Bobby Ferguson, donated couches for the family visitation rooms at the center from Ferguson’s House of Furniture in Wintersville.
Ward said the need for a visitation center was one of the major needs she heard when she came back to work in Jefferson County.
“I heard it from so many folks. I didn’t realize that we didn’t have a safe, nurturing place, for our children and our families who are caught in between custody battles, situations of trauma or domestic violence to exchange their children,” she said.
The center is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.
The center opened March 6 and has had five referrals, impacting 13 lives, she said. Four people have been referred for counseling and outpatient behavioral health services.
“What’s really under this is the trauma that many of these children and families have gone through,” she said.
Attorney Francesca Carinci, who has worked as a juvenile court and general magistrate, said the service is important to the legal community, too.
“I have seen from both sides how deeply children are affected by domestic relations turmoil that parents find themselves in,” she said. “Rather than assign fault, as sometimes the legal system tends to do, we have to keep an eye on the children.”
She said the prior visitation center had provided a safe haven for children.
“I have clients that have so much confusion in their lives and there is no other way to keep the family dynamic and keep the children with both parents other than doing this,” she said. “It’s a means of keeping people from doing dumb things and hurting their kids.”
She said she already has a client achieving success through the service.
“You’re holding a ribbon cutting and you’re already having success,” she said. “The women (at the center) have gone so above and beyond what my client needed to help her. They have quietly and gently and in a most Christian manner helped these people.
“The child told me she feels better, that she sleeps better now. She told me that her nightmares have gone away,” Carinci said.
While giving a tour of the center, which gives families access to visitation rooms, a playroom for children, as well as a spacious conference room with a table where families can eat, Bozeman explained services are provided for families that require fully supervised visits or those where there are monitored visits with periodic checks by staff. Parents can exchange custody of children without seeing the other parent with whom they may have difficulties.
“I tell the parents that I don’t care what their situation is with one another. My concern is about that child,” she said. “We run a positive environment here. There is no talking down of one parent by the other in front of the children. They’re here to spend time with the kids and interact with them, play with them, talk about their school.”
To ensure parents and children spend their time paying attention to one another, Bozeman said there are no cell phones or electronics permitted.
Pam Petrilla, executive director of the Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board, said, “We were very proud to partner with the United Way to make this happen and we now have a very valuable resource in Jefferson County.”
Kate Sedgmer, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County, said support of the center is support “for all the thousands of children who are going to walk through those doors, and more importantly their entire families.”
Bozeman emphasized the need for the center and service for Jefferson County, and it’s not only because of parents who cannot perform peaceful exchanges of their children for custody.
“We have grandparents raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren because of the population of drugs, abuse, neglect. We have a lot of people coming through from children services where the children have been placed because of abuse and neglect. We have people coming from the juvenile courts. Mom or dad has drug issues and they want to see the kids,” she said. “Or grandma has custody and the parents want visitation, and they can’t be trusted to go out into the community because of drugs.”
See coverage by WTOV here.
The Coleman Professional Services Visitation and Exchange Service at 3200 Johnson Road was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. Among those taking part were, from left, Bobby Ferguson of Ferguson’s House of Furniture; Judge Lisa Ferguson of the Jefferson County Court at Toronto; Doug Comm, executive vice president and CIO of Hancock County Savings Bank; Cathy Ferrari, president and chief executive officer of Hancock County Savings Bank; Lisa Ward, chief officer of Coleman Professional Services Behavioral Health of Jefferson County; Nelson W. Burns, chief executive officer of Coleman Professional Services; Pam Petrilla, executive director of the Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board; attorney Francesca Carinci; and Kate Sedgmer, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County. — Paul Giannamore