Health System

What’s New at WES

City Announces New Supervised Child Custody Program Created Through Federal Funding

Mayor's Office of Communications (CITY OIF PHILADELPHIA)

For Immediate Release: November 1, 2023

Contact: Mayor’s Office of Communications press@phila.gov

City Announces New Supervised Child Custody Program Created Through Federal Funding

WES Health Systems Awarded Contract to Serve as New Provider to Improve Services for Families

PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Domestic Violence Strategies (ODVS), in partnership with Philadelphia Family Court and WES Health Systems, has announced the launch of a new supervised child custody program to provide free trauma-informed services for families referred by Family Court, especially those living in low-income households. The program will also address and improve upon the limitations of the previous program run by the Philadelphia Family Court.

The new program is the result of several years of advocacy and cooperation among a diverse set of partners to address a service gap that the COVID-19 pandemic created for vulnerable families in the city.

Before the pandemic, Philadelphia Family Court offered a free space for supervised custody visits, serving between 80 to 100 families weekly but, there were several limitations. Service was only available for group supervision, staffed by volunteer Court employees with limited training, was restricted to Sundays, and although there were security screenings, the space did not provide separate entrances for custodial and non-custodial parties.

Like many programs, the Family Court supervised custody space was suspended because of the pandemic and was unable to resume due to limited staff availability. Advocates and attorneys identified the lack of a free supervised custody program as a problem soon after its closure.

“Acknowledging this gap, we worked with Family Court and local stakeholder groups to pursue funding to develop an alternative solution – quickly,” said Azucena Ugarte, the City of Philadelphia’s Director of the Office of Domestic Violence Strategies.

“Thanks to the advocacy and experience our diverse set of partners brought to the table to address this service gap, we were able to make the case to secure federal funding from the Senate Appropriations Committee to be awarded to the City of Philadelphia to start a supervised custody program,” said Ugarte. “It took a lot of work, but it happened!”

ODVS convened a stakeholder group to identify the specific practices that should be included in a new program and used that feedback to create a Request for Proposals (RFP). Through a competitive RFP process, WES Health Systems was selected to be the provider. WES is the largest minority-managed behavioral health organization in the Commonwealth and has extensive experience providing trauma-informed services for adults and children in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, and New Jersey.

This new program not only addresses the lack of a free supervised custody site in Philadelphia over the last three years but also addresses and improves upon several limitations of the previous program.

Among facility improvements, WES’s site has:

  • Separate entrances and exits for the custodial parties so they will not interact.
  • A large room for group supervised visitation.
  • Smaller rooms for more privacy and, when appropriate, a higher level of supervision.
  • Supervision time slots offered on both weekday evenings and weekends.

WES staff members will have relevant training on trauma, de-escalation, and intimate partner violence dynamics. WES staff will also provide the Court with attendance reports and can distribute these directly to the parties involved or their attorneys.

“Our team has extensive experience providing trauma-informed services for adults and children in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, and New Jersey. We are proud to be a partner with ODVS and Family Court to prioritize the safety and well-being of children and adults during supervised custody visits,” says Cherita Reese-Butler, Sr. Director overseeing Therapeutic Supervised Visitation Services in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

During the first year, the program will be on a referral-only basis, when supervised sessions are part of a custody order from Family Court. The judge will determine the frequency of the sessions, and when WES contacts the parties, they can schedule days and times that work best for them.

For more information about the program, contact: Cherita Reese-Butler, creese@drwes.org

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