On December 13, 2010, I had the opportunity to visit and tour Erma’s House, a Family Visitation Center, located at 1046 Brown Street, Dayton, Ohio. I had the privilege to meet with Peggy Seboldt, Director of Erma’s House, and Shannon Wahrhaftig, Co-Program Coordinator. During the meeting and tour of the facility, it was so very apparent to me that both employees are totally dedicated to the mission of the Visitation Center and that both are committed to their work at the Center.
Erma’s House opened its doors in 1997 and has been providing visitation services to the community for nearly fourteen (14) years. The Visitation Center’s name is in memory and recognition of Erma Bombeck, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a well-known, respected, and prolific writer of family-oriented books, magazine articles, and columns. Funding for the Center is dependent upon the Montgomery County Human Services Levy. Additional funds are obtained from the annual Pat Rupp Golf Tournament and various charitable contributions.
Mission Statement of Erma’s House:
To assist and support the children and families of Montgomery County who have been affected by divorce, separation, abuse, or neglect; in maintaining or rebuilding their family relationships through a program of safe, structured, community-based visitation services.
Services Offered at Erma’s House:
- The agency provides “supervised” visitation between the non-custodial parent and the child or children of the relationship. The “supervised” visitation periods are closely monitored by the staff of the Visitation Center.
- The agency offers “supervised exchanges” for parents who are permitted to have unsupervised visitation periods with their child or children but who need to be able to make the exchange without interacting with the other parent.
How Erma’s House manages to avoid confrontations during “exchanges” or periods of “supervised visitation”.
The Center has two separate entrances and waiting rooms and two separate areas for parking. Ideally, the parents in conflict will avoid seeing one another and/or having verbal exchanges with one another.
Mother brings her three-year-old daughter to Erma’s House to commence a one hour period of visitation with Father. She enters the entrance intended for “custodial” parents. She waits with her child to be certain that Father arrives for the visitation period and then she leaves the Center. Meanwhile, Father has entered the Center via the entrance for “non-custodial” parents and a staff member takes the daughter to be with her Father for the specified amount of time.
Hours of Operation:
Erma’s House does not offer “supervised” visitation on Saturdays or Mondays. Supervised visitation is offered on Tuesdays until 6:00 p.m., on Wednesdays and Thursdays until 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. Supervised “exchanges” of visitation are offered to parties on alternate Fridays.
Costs and Fees:
Each party is assessed a non-refundable application fee of $35.00. Families are then offered two (2) years of visitation or exchange services without additional costs or fees. After the initial two (2) years of visitation services, families are then charged on a “sliding scale” basis dependent upon their incomes. And, clients who request services but who live outside of Montgomery County are charged for services.
Staffing at Erma’s House:
There is a full-time Director, Peggy Seboldt, who has been with Erma’s House since it opened in 1997. There are also two (2) full-time Program Managers, and a part-time “fill in” Manager. And, there are twenty-three (23) volunteer visitation monitors. These volunteer positions are filled by college students, interns, retired nurses, teachers, and social workers. The volunteers are all dedicated to the mission of Erma’s House, and they all receive background examinations and training. The Director reiterated to me that the program could not continue without the energetic and interested volunteer staff.
On-site security is provided by an off-duty police officer and an off-duty security guard. Both are “paid” positions.
Erma’s House currently has a caseload of forty-eight (48) families serving a total of sixty-nine (69) children. Children needing “supervised” visitation range in age from infants through the age of emancipation. The “normal” visitation period is one (1) to two (2) hours of visitation one time per week. At present, there is a “waiting list” for families referred to the Visitation Center.
Rooms and Areas Available for Visitation:
Each family is “assigned” to a specific room or area at the Visitation Center and they are expected to remain in the area assigned. There is an Infant and Toddler Room equipped with toys and items that would be of interest to this age group. This room also includes rocking chairs and a changing table. There is a “Girly-Girl” Room equipped with dolls, baby doll strollers, and other toys/books of interest to girls. The Train Room is meant to provide a strong draw to young boys. It is filled with trains, trucks, cars, and games appealing to young male children. There is a Teen Room complete with a pool table, games for adolescents, and a music sound system. And, there is a larger all-purpose room for larger family units. Finally, when the weather is warmer, there is an outside fenced-in play area with playground equipment.
Levels of Supervision:
- Depending upon the facts surrounding each individual family unit, there are several “levels” of supervision or monitoring of visitation:
- Fully Supervised: This level means that the visiting parent is monitored (“watched/observed”) during the entire visitation period.
- Ten Minute Checks: This level means that the visiting parent is monitored by a staff member or volunteer every ten (10) minutes during the visitation period.
- Thirty Minute Checks: This level means that the visiting parent is monitored by a staff member or volunteer every thirty (30) minutes during the visitation period.
- And, during the alternate Friday “supervised exchanges”, the entire exchange would be observed by a visitation monitor.
There shall be NO:
- Alcohol or drug use prior to or during a visit or exchange
- Abusive behavior or threats to anyone at the Center;
- Smoking on the premises;
- Negative or inappropriate comments about the other parent in the presence of the child or children;
- Physical discipline toward any child/children participating in the program; or
- Whispered conversations.
Any infractions of the rules shall be noted by the monitors, reported to the appropriate agency or Court, and could result in being terminated from the program.
Other Rules or Policies of Erma’s House:
- There shall be no use of cell phones during the visitation period or exchange.
- No cameras are permitted and no photographs may be taken. (Non-custodial parents used to be able to take photos of their child/children during visitation. This policy was changed as some parents were altering the photos to try to “prove” abuse….such as altering the photo to reflect that the child had apparent injuries, such as bruising.)
- Food may be brought in by the “non-custodial” parent, but it must be “store bought” and in original containers. No “homemade” food is permitted to be brought to the Center.
- Gifts may be brought to the Center, but they must be unwrapped and subject to inspection and must be age appropriate for the child/children.
Also note that if an individual is a registered sexual offender, he or she would be ineligible for supervised visitation services through Erma’s House due to potential liability issues.
Reasons for Termination from the Program:
- Failure to follow the House Rules.
- Repeated “no shows” or “tardiness” as there is a waiting list of persons anxious to become part of the program.
I certainly appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Director of Erma’s House and her assistant to learn more about the services offered by this non-profit agency. As a practicing attorney in the arenas of Family Law and Juvenile Law, I have had the occasion to have clients referred to Erma’s House. The Visitation Center strives to provide a safe and secure “home-like” atmosphere for “supervised” visitation and for “supervised” exchanges of visitation. Our community is fortunate to have this valuable resource available to our clients!
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.