SEPT tackled COVID challenges head on

Since 1998, CASA’s Supervised Exchange & Parenting Time (SEPT) Program has created a safe and healthy environment for court-ordered supervised parent-child visits and exchanges.

It is not uncommon for families experiencing divorce, separation, domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health issues to need temporary assistance to ensure children are not pulled into the middle of adult circumstances. SEPT has been a solid resource for these families for more than two decades.

This solidity was really brought to light during COVID-19 as the hands-on nature of the program required staff and volunteers to tackle complicated challenges and prove their flexibility time and time again.

“We developed a plan to transition families to virtual visits. Next came communicating the changes to all families and determining everyone’s comfort levels and access to technology. Families were responsive and cooperative which made a big difference,” said SEPT Program Manager Kristeen O’Donnell. “It took combined efforts and required everyone to push past their comfort zones to think critically about how to continue best serving families because not providing visitation was simply not an option.”

It was March of 2020 when SEPT first transitioned to virtual visits. Instead of utilizing the CASA Family Center with in-person Volunteer Facilitators, children stayed in touch with the visiting parent over Zoom.

“The flexibility and quick thinking of the SEPT staff really stood out to me,” said CASA Executive Director Angela Rose. “Through impressive problem solving and a commitment to their mission, the SEPT team ensured that families stayed connected and that relationships remained intact despite the outside forces of a global pandemic.”

By the time in-person visits were partially reinstated a few months later in June, SEPT staff had designed and implemented a thorough cleaning and social distancing process for visiting families. By March of 2021, all visits and new client orientations were in-person and volunteer facilitators signed up for shifts in the CASA Family Center once more.

Since its inception in the late nineties, SEPT has facilitated more than 28,000 visits with safety and compassion at the forefront. Even in a pandemic, the program continued to excel.

It is a huge benefit for kids like Ariana who started with SEPT back in August of 2019 when she was just nine months old.  With high conflict between her parents, it was in the CASA Family Center where she met her dad for the first time. Because she was too young for virtual visits when COVID started, she was one of the first children SEPT staff put on the schedule when in-person visits partially reopened. After just a few more months of visits and some additional mediation between the parents, CASA is pleased to report that the family has successfully transitioned to unsupervised visits.

“I’d like to thank you and your team for helping our daughter and other kids who are caught in the middle of complicated adult situations,” the father told CASA staff after the change in court orders. “I can’t tell you enough how important the work you do is for these kids.”

CASA is always looking for community members who want to become SEPT volunteers. After an initial training, volunteers are sworn in as officers of the court by a judge.

For anyone interested in becoming a SEPT volunteer, please click here for more information!