Council works to retain both parentsDenise Barnes
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed David L. Levy, co-founder and president of the Children's Rights Council (CRC).
Question: How does the Children's Rights Council help children during difficult times in their homes?
Answer: We work to change laws and attitudes to provide more shared parenting [joint custody], mediation, parenting education and to send a signal that for children "the best parent is both parents." That's the CRC motto.
Single parents deserve our appreciation for the terrific job that they do. But most single parents will tell you that if the other parent were involved, it would help a lot.
We try and help bring about that involvement by operating safe haven, neutral drop-off and pickup sites for children in eight states — Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Connecticut, Michigan, Rhode Island and the District.
These sites are usually located in churches — a parent will bring a child to the site, say, at 7 p.m. on a Friday evening and wait 15 minutes until the other parent arrives to pick up the child for the weekend. Two days later on Sunday, say, at 6 p.m. the parent returns the child to the same site. This enables the child to see the parent — a parent a child may have had little contact with for weeks or for months due to arguing between the parents or other problems in the home.
Some of our sites run supervised access [visitation] on Saturday mornings, where a parent may not leave the premises with the child but can stay at the location and visit.
Most of our referrals come from judges. CRC staff monitors these visits to make sure there's safety for everyone involved. Safety is a very important issue. We do not charge parents for this service because we do not believe parents should have to pay to see their own children. We receive some grants, but we never have enough money to reach out to all of the families who need these services.
Q: Where are the safe haven pickup and drop-off sites located?
A: We have two locations in the District — one at the Hillcrest Children's Center located at the Anthony Bowen YMCA in Northwest, and we recently opened a new site at Faith Tabernacle of Prayer in Ward 8 in Southeast. The two sites are under the direction of Frank Banner Jr., who is a deputy U.S. marshal.
In Maryland, we have eight sites, and a new one will be opening soon in Northern Virginia.
Q: How successful have the transfer sites been so far?
A: Our preliminary evaluations from parents who have used CRC sites for at least three months show that 83 percent of parents agree the program helps them to be better parents.
One hundred percent say the program improves cooperation with paying financial child support, has been good for their children, and that the CRC staff are/were helpful. One hundred percent say they would recommend the program to others.
Eighty percent of the parents say they don't feel as angry now that they are involved in the program. Sixty-seven percent say the program decreases the likelihood of their returning to court to complain about access. Ninety-one percent say the program helps their children maintain a relationship with both parents.
And 57 percent say the program helps resolve family problems by fostering more cooperation between Mom and Dad. At least one-half of the parents who use these sites in the District are not married, and about 35 percent are mothers who don't have primary care of their children.
Q: How many chapters does CRC have?
A: We have chapters in 32 states, the District, Great Britain and Japan. We also have a chapter in Sierra Leone whose members live in the D.C. area, and they raise money in the United States for food and medicine for children living in that war-torn country.
Q: There's been a lot in the news about the Bush administration promoting marriage. What's your opinion on this proposal?
A: Divorce has long-term negative consequences for many children. And we know that the same is true for children whose parents are not married.
It has been said the best way to avoid poverty is to complete your education and get married — and get a job before you have children. A major factor in teen-age pregnacy is physical or emotional father absence.
I have testified more than 20 times before congressional committees on various ways to involve both parents in the lives of their children at far less cost to the government. The Bush administration is proposing spending $300 million to encourage marriage, and we know that marriage is the best insulation for children, but children in shared parenting do almost as well as children in marriage and much better than those in single-parent homes. Billions of dollars [spent] on poverty, abuse and neglect would help more people if they were aimed at prevention rather than treatment.
Q: How do people get involved?
A: We have a hot line number in the District, which is 202/543-3900. The Maryland hot line number is 301/552-8400.
We will answer basic questions about joint custody, mediation, parenting education, parenting plans, and we will walk a person through the court system so they don't have to pay a lot of money to figure things out. Many people do not know how to file a motion for joint custody which is the first option in the District, access or support.
For example, I once had a grandmother call who was raising two young children, and she wanted to know if she had any custody rights. We advised her to work it out with the parents, but her daughter was on drugs and the father was in jail. It was difficult. Then, we advised her on how to go to court and get custody.
Another example is a father who was paying support but who said the mother blocked access to his son. We again advised working with the mother and explained how the court system works if he had to file an action. We told him if the mother didn't have an attorney, he didn't need one either. And I'm lawyer and I'm saying that.
Q: Do you need volunteers?
A: We need financial contributions and volunteers, especially those who have experience in accounting or bookkeeping, grant writing, fund raising and advocacy. We also need people who might be interested in working at our transfer sites and handling our hot line calls.
Q: What's needed to become an advocate for CRC?
A: A commitment to strengthening two-parent families — all you need is a good head, a compassionate heart and a focus on children. We've had more than 250 college student interns volunteer with us over the years. They come for a semester or a summer and they seem to gain a lot.
•• For more information, visit the Web sites www.gocrc.com. and www.info4parents.com.
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