Children’s Safe Exchange and Visitation Program opens in Danville
Published 7:35 pm Saturday, December 9, 2023
GreenHouse17 has launched a new service in Danville that will provide childrens’ supervised visitation and exchange services for parents who have custody agreements.
The program is housed at Grace Presbyterian Church, which is at 180 Bold Venture Drive in Danville. The church hosted a ribbon cutting on Nov. 10, with GreenHouse17 leaders, church leaders, and local elected officials in attendance.
The program is for residents of Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties. The Boyle County and Mercer County Fiscal Courts have provided funding, the City of Danville has provided to help pay for law enforcement and monitors.
Email newsletter signup
GreenHouse17 is a Heart of Kentucky United Way partner agency, and has served 17 counties in Central Kentucky for 19 years. They help survivors of domestic violence, providing safe emergency shelter, a 24-hour hotline, legal and court advocacy in-person and online, support groups, and housing assistance.
GreenHouse17 Executive Director Darlene Thomas explained that violence can escalate when victims separate from abusive partners, and many parenting victims and their children risk harm while fulfilling custody agreements.
“One of the number one requested things for survivors of intimate partner violence is to have supervised visitation, at least for a while until we know maybe the situation has deescalated,” Thomas said.
GreenHouse17 has offered services in Danville since their beginning, but this is their first time doing a visitation exchange in Danville. They started visitation exchange five years ago in Lexington, then started one in Georgetown, and now Danville.
Thomas explained that more than 400 petitions for orders of protection are filed in this region each year. When visitation must be supervised, a specially trained monitor is there to observe visitation, and local law enforcement provides security.
Shannon Weer, the program’s visitation coordinator and community liaison, gave tours of where visitations will be held at Grace Church. The church has up to six rooms available for visitations, including five kids rooms with activities, and one larger room with multiple tables.
The church has two separate entrances for visitors. Visiting parties come in the side entrance 15 minutes before the non-visiting party. They meet with a monitor and off duty police officer, then they go into one of the rooms for the visit.
The non-visiting party comes in through the front doors, and the monitor takes the kids back to the side area for the visit. The non-visiting parent can wait in the front of the church or go back to their cars.
The visit is an hour long, and a monitor sits in the doorway of each room, so they can listen and see what’s going on. The visiting party is never unsupervised. They have bathrooms and everything they might need on that side of the church, as well as in the front of the church for the other parent to wait.
At the end of the visit, a monitor takes kids back to the parent up front, and the visiting party has to stay another 15 minutes after the non-visiting party leaves.
“The safety is there to keep the two parties apart, there’s no contact, and we also do that for exchanges,” Weer said.
People can also use the service for exchanges, with the same rule of parties waiting 15 minutes. Anyone can request services by calling 859-230-5500. They make a reservation, and all services are free.
Weer said that while the service isn’t available 24/7, people can still make exchanges in the Grace Church parking lot without using the service, since there are cameras in the parking lot. People can also go to any police station parking lot to make exchanges.
Thomas said they can offer the service two nights per week. They hope to be able to serve 30 to 36 visits per week, with the five or six rooms. Judges in surrounding counties are aware of the service, so when they come across cases where they are concerned about parenting capacity, or escalation, or have parents who are afraid of doing visitation, the courts can mandate them to GreenHouse17.
Thomas said Grace Church leadership has been a huge support, and the whole church congregation has embraced the program.
Grace Church Pastor Shane Terrell said they decided to host the program because they want to help local people. He said that one of the church’s goals is to “live for the prosperity of the community.” They have a five to six year vision for how they can grow and improve the program.
Bruce Petrie, family court judge for the Boyle and Mercer Counties Family Court, is a member of Grace Church and spoke at the ribbon cutting about the need for this service.
“This is something we’ve needed since I started practicing law in 1991, and we probably needed it before then and I just didn’t know about it,” Petrie said. “We need protection for these families.”
Petrie explained that there have been a few attempts at having supervised visitation centers in the Boyle and Mercer circuit before, but both failed because they weren’t properly funded. He said another reason they shut down was because of incidents where they didn’t have enough security. Petrie said GreenHouse17 is providing more security, and he praised the local governments for providing funding.
Danville Mayor James Atkins said the city is excited to see how the program will grow and help local people. Boyle County Judge Executive Trille Bottom said the Fiscal Court was happy to help fund the program in order to help the children.
“Children are what this program is all about, providing a safe, secure environment where they can still be with both parents,” Bottom said. “It’s a wonderful project that the Fiscal Court has agreed to help fund, and we’re so excited to be involved in it; we can only see bigger positive things, and I know this program is going to grow.”
In addition to local government funding, a grant from the Hudson-Ellis Fund at Blue Grass Community Foundation allowed for the purchase of security equipment at the church. Members of Grace Church organized a donation drive for toys and board games for children’s visitations.
A project grant from the Heart of Kentucky United Way funded the purchase of supplies and gaming systems for visitations with tweens and teens. Additional funding is provided by ZeroV, the state coalition of domestic violence programs, with funds from the Kentucky General Fund and Cabinet for Health and Family Services; the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet with funds from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Thomas said in the future, they hope to secure other grants and funding sources, and hope to get more support from surrounding counties, and possibly more state and federal agencies.
Anyone can request services by calling 859-230-5500, or completing the form from the “Get Help” menu at GreenHouse17.org.