October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and Children’s Home & Aid is proud to provide programs that safeguard and protect families and children impacted by domestic violence. One of these programs is our Children’s Home & Aid Central Region Family Visitation Center (FVC).

The Children’s Home & Aid FVC provides a safe, neutral environment for supervised visits and exchanges between noncustodial parents and their children in the 11th Judicial Circuit and McLean County. Safety features include having different entrances and parking areas for each parent; having staggered arrival and departure times; security camera monitoring; panic buttons; and 2-way mirrors.

Jeannie Higdon, a Program Manager with Family Support at the FVC, has been with the program since 2014 and sees firsthand the impact the program has had on the families.

“When families use our services, they can let all of the worry and stress surrounding safety or loss of relationship go,” Jeannie said. “Children are worried or scared and we help empower them by allowing them to have a say in what they want during their visits, which is to just see their parent.”

For the FVC, the overall goal is not to separate offending parents from their children, but to create safe and regulated engagement that helps strengthen relationships. Regardless of the mistakes the offending parent has made in a child’s life, they are still a key component to their child’s life.

“The purpose of the FVC is to provide a safe and neutral space for children and their parents to spend time together without worrying about everything else happening in their worlds. They get to focus on each other,” said Jeannie.

The program is supported by public funds but also through generous donations, including funds raised by the annual 5K organized by Amy Leichtenberg. Amy is a mother who was part of the FVC program with her two children, Duncan and Jack ages nine and seven.

In 2009, Duncan and Jack went missing after the judge on the case decided the father’s visits no longer needed supervision at the FVC. This decision was based on a psychiatrist’s report stating the father was not a threat to himself or his children. Three weeks later their bodies were found, along with their father’s. He had taken the boys’ lives and then his own.

Amy has dedicated her life to telling her story and because of her advocacy, the FVC can reach more parents and prevent a similar tragedy from taking place. “Amy is such a supporter of the program,” Jeannie said. “She continues to be the voice for the program and children and survivors who may not know of the program otherwise.”

Though COVID-19 has impacted the program, the work of the FVC continues. The FVC now coordinates virtual visits between children and the offending parent. Sometimes this means having one party meet at the agency and the other virtually or, if it is safe, having both parties in person at the agency. Most importantly, the program’s mission of continuing to provide opportunities for families to interact in a way that is safe and free of stress has not waivered.

Through the FVC and because of advocacy from parents like Amy, these victims’ stories are seen and heard. Domestic violence becomes a chapter of their life, but it does not become their story.