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First-of-its-Kind Center Open for Eastern Iowa Families

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - "We help unite the families without them having to communicate with one another," said Family Visitation Center of Linn County Program Director Elizabeth Riechers.

It's a difficult task for parents who have a no-contact-order after a domestic violence incident. Now families in Linn County can find a Safe Haven at the county's Family Visitation Center. The first-of-its-kind center in the state allows for supervised visits and child exchanges under supervision. The center opened in December, but staff hopes Tuesday's open house gives them more attention.

It's a relatively new resource for victims of domestic violence. Through federal dollars, this center allows kids to have both parents in their lives regardless of the serious problems their parents might have.

"Exchanging the children in front of the police station, McDonald's, someplace in the open," said Riechers.

But now families affected by domestic violence can come to the Linn County Family Visitation Center.

"Alot of times the batterer uses the time with the kids as another way to hurt the other parent. Whereas here that won't happen. We would stop the visit or do an intervention and ask the parent to change the subject," said Family Visitation Center of Linn County Program Coordinator Cassandra Gibson.

Each visitation room also has a double-sided mirror so staff can monitor appointments.

"A lot of times, children feel in the middle or it's their fault. Where here the focus is on their relationship with the other parent," said Gibson.

Safety and security top priorities here at Safe Haven. That's why anytime someone comes to the building they have to be buzzed in to get inside the facility. All clients and visitors are watched on multiple security cameras throughout their stay at the Family Visitation Center.

"It could be as risky as death, violence, shooting," said Riechers.

Staff say the center is most crucial during the first few months of separation when lives are most at risk. A family may only use the Family Visitation Center if they're involved in a domestic violence situation. The center ultimately hopes to help about 100 families a year. They're also working to serve a six-county radius and not just Linn County.

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