As we kick off domestic violence awareness month today, many people in strained relationships are also dealing with divorce and shared custody.
It’s a situation that can be especially tough for children but there are local organizations working to make it easier. One of those organizations is C.A.S.A. also known as Community Action Stops Abuse.
The Casa Community Center is a certified domestic violence center. It’s something they’ve been doing for more than 20 years, but now a service they’ve provided for families dealing with divorce is no longer available.
“Casa is an awesome facility and we were actually sent to Casa from the Domestic Violence court,” said Fany Georgieva.
Fany has been using the CASA Community Center in southern Pinellas County as a refuge for the past two months. It's where her son sees his father every week. But now, she has to drive to Clearwater because CASA’s supervised visitation center, no longer funded by the state, is shutting down.
“I would have never let go of this program if the Family Partnership had not been available to step in. While we help victims of domestic violence, we are not the experts in child visitation, they are. They’re schooled in it, they’re schooled in child welfare, They’re schooled in child psycology.” said Shandra Riffey, CASA Acting Executive Director.
Riffey says after losing state funding and months of searching for the right place, CASA transferred its services to Family Partnership in Clearwater.
Their sole job is to provide a place for court ordered supervised visits. They offer a bigger facility with more visitation hours, and better security. “When we went to the facility and visited it twice, we were very much impressed with what they had to offer,” Riffey said.
The problem is it’s the only facility in Pinellas County, and Georgieva says there should be more options. “It helps a lot of families and we do need this if we want to fight domestic violence,” she said.
While the facilities are court ordered they also serve as safe exchange points for parents sharing custody.
Three years ago, a 7-year-old watched his dad kill his mom and then himself during a custody swap in Carrollwood.
Security at these facilities could prevent these types of violent incidents, and while local organizations help foot the bill to provide safe havens for local families, Georgieva says the state needs to do its part too. “I think the problem with domestic violence is at a much higher level and needs to be handled by the state too,” she said.
By mid-October all of casa’s clients will be transferred over to Family Partnership. They have several locations, one in Clearwater and two in Pasco.