By Ed Runyan
The Solace Center, a non-profit Trumbull County organization that provided an important visitation service to families undergoing crisis for close to 12 years, closed 21/2 years ago.
At the urging of Judge Pamela Rintala of Trumbull County Family Court, a group of concerned parties have put together a temporary plan to provide the service at the Trumbull County Children Services offices starting in January.
Over the years, the Solace Center operated out of various buildings in Warren, providing a place where supervised visitation could take place among children and family members in cases involving contested divorce, domestic violence, stalking or child abuse.
Additionally, the Solace Center provided a safe exchange location for children whose parents share custody by having the child and one parent arrive 15 minutes before the second parent in cases where the parents don’t get along. A staff member supervised the child until the other parent arrived.
In the absence of the Solace Center, visitations and exchanges have taken place at police stations, restaurants or at Hope House on West Earle Avenue in Youngstown.
None of those options was ideal, said Susan Collins, in-house legal counsel at Trumbull Children Services.
Police stations and restaurants don’t provide the proper supervision or environment. Using the Hope House caused greater transportation problems and was growing increasingly expensive for the families, Collins said.
Carole Bopp, executive director of the Hope House, said the price for a supervised visit for Trumbull County residents who don’t qualify for a grant is $116 — the amount it costs Hope House to provide the service.
Hope House has a uniformed Mahoning County deputy and a staff member supervising all 90 minutes of each visit, Bopp said. The agency has an annual budget of about $170,000, most of that coming from government sources such as the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services and Community Development Block Grant money from the City of Youngstown.
A committee consisting of Judge Rintala; Trumbull Children Services; Mary Olesh, former director of the Solace Center; County Commissioner Frank Fuda and others decided to use the seven existing visitation rooms at the Trumbull Children Services offices on Reeves Road.
Visitations and exchanges usually take place on Friday nights and weekends, when the Trumbull Children Services visitation rooms are not being used by children services personnel, said Tim Schaffer, Children Services director.
Olesh, who will run the new visitation center with a coordinator, as well as volunteers such as graduate students, said the program will be separate from Children Services.
Exchanges will occur on Friday and Sunday evenings, and visitations will occur for six hours on Sundays.
The children services offices and its residential facilities are separated from the visitation rooms by locked doors.
Initial funding will be provided by $24,000 from Family Court and fees charged to families. Office space will be provided by Someplace Safe, a Warren domestic-violence shelter that recently merged with Family and Community Services, which will serve as the umbrella organization for the service.
Olesh said she will begin taking referrals for the service in November and December.
The reason the Solace Center closed was lack of funding, but the partners in the new service are hopeful that additional funding can be secured to provide the service with a new, permanent location, Olesh said.
Family Court officials see the need for the service just as she does, Olesh said.
“It takes the kids out of the conflict” that frequently goes along with divorce, especially in the early stages of the divorce “until they get things worked out,” Olesh said.