FARMINGTON — The Franklin County Children’s Task Force started a new program last month to provide supervised visitations and a safe exchange of children between parents.

It recently received a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to provide scholarships to low-income families who want to use these services.

“Supervised visitation is a service much needed in this area,” Executive Director Renee Blanchet said. “With the lack of public transportation for families we are seeing more and more noncustodial parents having no access to their children because the services are cost prohibitive or the distance to travel is too far.”

With only two other similar sites in Maine, one in Augusta and another in York County, community members, an early childhood collaboration, law enforcement members and guardians brought together by the Children’s Task Force voiced a need for these services as has the court system, she said. Currently, a relative or neighbor, agreed upon by both parties, oversees visitations but that can cause issues.

The Children’s Task Force has set up its Church Street office basement for visits or as a place for one parent to leave children for the other parent to pick up 15 minutes later, alleviating any confrontation or even seeing each other. The children are exchanged between parents there instead of a parking lot where issues can develop in front of them, she said.

An impartial facilitator who is not there to judge either parent or take sides has been hired to oversee visits. Tom Taylor of Farmington, a longtime master-level educator, has contracted to facilitate for hour visits or on an adjusted fee for longer periods of time. The agency also provides passes for a local gym and have used local playgrounds for visits, she said.

“Our goal is to have group visits made up of four or five families together with more than one facilitator on weekends. It’s a more natural environment,” she said.

Charged on a sliding fee scale, based on income, the Maine Community Foundation grant will help “defray the costs of the visits for families while providing a quality service that meets of exceeds national standards,” she said.

“With so many people out of work, it keeps them from their children. For their wellness, children need to see their parents,” she said.

There’s a huge national network that supports this work, she added.

The Franklin County Children’s Task Force has been committed to strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect for over 30 years, according to its Web site.

For more information about supervised visitations or the safe exchange program, call the Children’s Task Force at 778-6960.

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