By MELINDA WILLIAMS
The need for volunteers to supervise court-ordered child visitations and exchanges between parents has reached the “critical” level at Safe Haven in Pulaski.
Ellen Mitchell, director of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Safe Haven Child Visitation Centers of the New River Valley, said the agency has a waiting list “a mile long” of families in need of its services. However, unless she has enough volunteers to meet the need, service cannot be rendered.
She stressed that volunteers can dedicate as little as an hour every other month if they choose and all visitations take place after school hours. During weekdays, visitations begin at 5:30 p.m. Hours vary on Sundays.
Safe Haven steps in when courts issue protective or custody orders that require a third party (Safe Haven volunteers) to either monitor the exchange of children between estranged or divorced parents or to supervise visits with non-custodial parents in a safe, controlled environment.
All visitations and exchanges take place at Safe Haven’s facility at 44 Third St. NW in Pulaski, so volunteers do not have to travel or go to the parents’ homes. At least two volunteers also must be present for each exchange or visitation, so volunteers are not alone.
Because of the extensive waiting list, Mitchell said the agency needs enough volunteers to be open more hours. Asked how many volunteers are needed, she said, “We need as many as we can get.”
Safe Haven has served more than 350 families since it opened seven years ago. It serves eight counties and three cities and is one of only four Safe Haven agencies in Virginia.
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old. They receive training in observation, note taking and rules and procedures and also must undergo a criminal background check at no cost to them.
To volunteer or obtain more information, call Mitchell at 808-0096.