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Abuse and visitation: Drawing lines and laws

May 10. 2014 1:18AM

Today is Mother's Day and the last day the Manchester YWCA will offer supervised parental visitation. Starting tomorrow, the 25 families who use that service will have to travel to Nashua or Concord for parental visits - if they can get into those centers. The waiting list for supervised visits at the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center is already several weeks long. This is not a small matter for New Hampshire.

For the state's largest city to be without a supverised visitation center is a serious problem. It could become a worse problem when Gov. Maggie Hassan signs Senate Bill 205, which allows judges to order that supervised parental visits take place in centers that have metal detectors or trained security personnel. That is not a bad change, but without more centers that offer those services, families will be faced with the option of traveling long distances for visits or not having them.

The Mancheseter YWCA shut down its visitations because of the cost of providing security. It increased security on the weekends, which raised its costs by $500 per weekend, according to YWCA officials. The YWCA's visitations were funded in part by a federal grant. The U.S. Justice Department's Office of Violence Against Women made the situation worse by imposing a new policy that forbids the grant recipients from charging anything for visitation. The YWCA charged for visitation and monitored child exchanges, using a sliding scale.

The YWCA increased its security after last year's fatal shooting inside the visitation center of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon by his father, Muni Savyon, who then shot himself to death. The knee-jerk response in the Legislature was to require metal detectors at all visitation centers. That changed when it became clear that some centers would close because they could not pay for the enhanced security. The Legislature would make a similar mistake if it tried to improve the safety of domestic abuse victims by focusing exclusively on regulating visitation centers. They would do better to reconsider putting abusers and victims together in the first place.

Muni Savyon had visitation rights to his son even after he had threatened to kill him. We do children a disservice when the system does not take threats like this seriously.

Some parents need supervised visitation because of the high emotions involved with a divorce. Some parents who should have lost their visitation rights still have them. Joshua Savyon's mother, Becky Ranes, will never get another Mother's Day with her son.

Keeping abusers away from children would be more effective than metal detectors at preventing other mothers from being alone on this day.

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