When family ties are strained by a divorce or another difficult situation, Kaileigh Smith says her job is to focus on one thing,
“It’s always got to be about the child – listening to them, making sure they feel safe and comfortable.”
Smith is an access supervisor with Prince Edward Island’s Supervised Access and Exchange Program. She is part of a team of child-care workers leading a new program that aims to keep families connected in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.
Chances and other family resource centres across the province serve as a neutral place where parents can have supervised visits with their children, or where parents sharing custody can transfer child over without the need to meet face-to-face. The centres have filled this role for Island families since December 2016.
“Our role is to be neutral and to observe, and to look to the well-being of the child,” said Jane Arbing, coordinator of the Supervised Access and Exchange Program.
“If someone is to have a supervised visit with the child, they can choose from a number of different spaces whether that is playing outside, doing crafts or sitting at the kitchen table with a board game. We let them have their visit and just keep a record of it.
“If there’s an exchange happening, then we would have the custodial parent drop the child off with our staff – and 15 minutes later, the other parent comes and picks the child up for their period of custody,” Arbing continued.
“It takes what may have been a tense period between the parents and lets it happen in a calm orderly way in a safe environment.”
Since the program began, 21 Island families have made use of the Supervised Access and Exchange Program.
Participants enter the program following a judge’s order. Staff meet separately with each parent, choose a meeting place from one of the Island’s many centres. They then hold a one-hour orientation and tour with the child to make sure they will be at ease with the facilities and staff when the access and exchange begins.
Becky Penny, access supervisor at Chances Family Resource Centre (link is external) in Charlottetown, said the program has allowed her to see fractured relationships change for the better.
“Sometimes you see a relationship where there hasn’t been contact or limited contact, those first meetings can be very stiff or very quiet,” Penny said. “But as you watch them interact, even in a supervised environment, you can see this bond develop and people come to really enjoy this time with each other.”
Supervised access is a type of visitation between separated or divorced parents and children that takes place with a trained, independent service provider. The visit takes place at a child-centered visiting place equipped with toys and games to help make the visit positive.
Supervised exchange happens with a neutral third party picks up children from one parent and escorts them to the other parent at the visiting place.
There is no cost to families to access the service. Service delivery is available seven days a week and on evenings, on times to be agreed upon by the clients and service providers, with consideration to the judge’s order.
Supervised access and exchange sites are provided by CHANCES(link is external) and Family Resource Centres at their child and family-friendly spaces across the province. The Mi’kmaq Family Resource Center in Charlottetown also provides space for First Nations families.
- CHANCES Charlottetown
- Cap Enfant Wellington (French-speaking service)
- CHANCES Cornwall
- CHANCES O’Leary
- CHANCES Stratford
- Families First Resource Centre Montague
- Family Place Summerside
- Kids West Inc. Alberton
- Main Street Family Resource Centre Souris
- Mi’Kmaq Family Resource Center – Charlottetown (for First Nations families)
Service delivery can also be provided in Family Resource Centre satellite sites, including: Borden-Carleton, Kinkora and Kensington.