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Kent domestic violence visitation center to stay closed

This Kent facility served as a domestic violence visitation center until closing last year. - Kent Reporter, file photo
This Kent facility served as a domestic violence visitation center until closing last year.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

A Kent-based domestic violence visitation and exchange center that served clients for seven years remains closed with little chance of reopening because of a lack of funding.

"There isn't any funding," said Katherin Johnson, the city's housing and human services manager, this month during a phone interview.

The downtown facility across from City Hall helped keep adult and child victims of domestic violence safe while complying with court-ordered visitation or exchanges.

Originally called Safe Havens when it opened in 2005 as one of four federally funded demonstration sites across the nation, the facility was renamed Safe and Sound Visitation in 2011 when Seattle-based Sound Mental Health took over operations.

But Sound Mental Health shut down the facility last fall and decided it would not reopen when funds dried up.

"We closed the facility due to a lack of sustainable funding," said Steve McLean, spokesman for Sound Mental Health, in an email. "Sound Mental Health subsidized this program from a mix of its own resources, individual donations and grants from a few cities in the area. There just isn’t a regular, sustainable funding source for a unique program like Safe & Sound Visitation that doesn’t completely fall within either behavioral health or domestic violence systems."

The program served nearly 400 families while operated by Sound Mental Health, McLean said.

The federal grant for the program ran out in September, Johnson said. The city of Kent helped fund the program in 2012 with an $11,000 contribution from its human services fund. In Safe Havens earlier years, the city contributed nearly $100,000 per year.

Launched by the city in 2005, Safe Havens was recognized nationally as a model program that ensures safety for families impacted by domestic violence – where the abusive parent is court-ordered to have supervised visitations with their children.

In late 2010, however, the program had its federal funding reduced, lost and state and King County funds, and closed until February 2011.

"We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the cities and individuals who recognized the value of safe and secure visitation for survivors of domestic violence and their children by helping Sound Mental Health sustain Safe & Sound Visitation for the past two years," McLean said. "We simply would not have been able to do it without their support."

McLean said he didn't have specific numbers for the program's budget shortfall "but it is worth noting that the deficit was significant enough that we simply were unable to keep this program going any longer."

"Sound Mental Health subsidized the program," McLean said. "Since it is not a mental health service, Medicaid can’t be billed for the services and since domestic violence services are also hard pressed to support the program, it ultimately could not be sustained. This, coupled with a bad economy made it extremely difficult to keep the program functioning."

The facility had an annual operating budget of $340,000 in 2010 when the city of Kent still oversaw it. In 2009, Safe Havens received $125,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, $100,000 from the city of Kent, $63,000 from the state and $52,000 from King County.

"We hadn't run it for several years," Johnson said. "We provided $100,000 a year from the city previously. But all state, federal and our budgets got smaller."

The amount of the federal grant diminished each year and then expired. Johnson said it was the type of grant that had no reapplication process.

"It's a needed service," Johnson said. "But it's extremely expensive trying to keep everyone safe from the child to the victim and the batterer."

Johnson said one of the lessons learned from this pilot project is that this is a program that should be in partnership or run by the court system rather than human services.

"Maintaining the safety of children and parents during court ordered visitations should be a function of the criminal justice system," she said.

"There's more money in criminal justice than human services."

Johnson said the city "was grateful for the opportunity to run this pilot project funded by the Department of Justice through the Office on Violence Against Women and that many lessons about the needs of the families and how to provide safe and secure services were learned."

City and Sound Mental Health officials would like to see the program return one day. McLean said no big announcement was made about the closing of the program because of the safety and security issues involved for clients.

"We hope in the future that the program might return when there is optimal and sustained funding sources to support this worthwhile program," McLean said.

McLean said the specialized supervised domestic violence visitation program was the only one in King County. The program drew clients from across the county.

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