By Brittany Wilson, SEPT Volunteer Coordinator
I waited by the door, excited for the reunion about to occur and anxious that this big moment in the life of a young child would go well. As I waited, a little girl in a pink hat hesitatingly stepped around the corner. She was clinging hard to her mom’s hand and her eyes revealed the same mix of excitement and anxiety that I felt.
This sweet little girl was about to see her dad for the first time in months. She was young and I doubted that she remembered much about him. I hoped that the few memories she had were full of joy and love but there were reasons to believe that might not be the case.
Just a few minutes before, I had met her dad. As I stepped up to introduce myself, he looked at the floor and nervously wrapped his hands together. I could sense his hesitation and I could see the worry in his face. Would this visit go well? Would his little girl remember him? How will he connect with a young girl that was a baby the last time he saw her?
With a big friendly smile and a compliment on the pink hat, I began the visit. Dad and daughter did well. He was warm and kind; she was shy but cautiously responded to his invitations to play. Even though their interaction was tentative, that visit was a starting point for a new relationship. As I watched dad and daughter play, I hoped their time together would grow and flourish.
Visits like this are vital for children and their parents and happen at the Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time (SEPT) program at CASA of the Pikes Peak Region.
The SEPT program is all about building relationships between parents and their children. Many of the new families coming in to the program haven’t seen each other for months. Perhaps one parent has struggled with addiction or domestic violence, sometimes the parents have a high level of conflict. However a family comes to the SEPT program, the result is the same – a safe place for children to spend time with a non-custodial parent. These visits form a new foundation for relationship and allow children to maintain their ties to each parent.
Developing rapport between children and a parent often takes time and several visits. Recently, a few visits for one family needed to end early because the youngest child was totally overwhelmed, anxious, and guarded and then reached his “tipping point” where he cried hysterically and begged to leave with his custodial parent. Who could blame the child? He was put into a program not knowing anyone but his brother and expected to visit with somebody he only vaguely remembered.
With all of this in mind, I made it a point to facilitate the next visit with this family. I gave an outgoing welcome to the young child and throughout the visit I did my best to boost his self-confidence. However, about three quarters of the way through the visit, the child started to ask to see the other parent. At that point, I jumped in and asked the child to start coloring. I knew he would shift his focus to the coloring sheet and I knew the visiting parent could engage concretely with the picture too. Not only was the child able to get through an entire visit for the first time, but the visiting parent was also able to nurture and offer guidance just as they had been hoping to do.
The training I received gave me the tools I needed to properly facilitate a visit and I love knowing that I am helping not only the child, but also the parents as they develop the necessary tools to co-parent one day outside of the SEPT program. As a mom with a full time job, I was glad to find a place to make a difference that fit my schedule.
Kids and their parents are waiting for the chance to start visits. Can you help two evenings per month? You’ll make a lasting difference in the life of a child.
Questions or ready to volunteer? Apply now or call Kelly at 447-9898, ext. 1033.