As of next week, a longtime Grants Pass organization will no longer be able to offer a crucial service for families trying to stay whole. Officials hope local nonprofits can help.
Family Sense, a program that oversees custody exchanges and supervised family visits, will be closing its doors Friday because the space it uses is too expensive.
The program, which has operated in Grants Pass since 1995, receives its clients through referrals from Josephine County Family Court.
Local judges say the service is important, and there is no comparable service in the county.
"Family Sense has provided an invaluable service to the community, and the loss of the supervised visitation program will have serious ripple effects," Circuit Court Judge Michael Newman, who is the presiding judge in family court matters, told the Daily Courier in an email.
The bulk of Family Sense's work is in supervised visitation, where parents who have lost custody rights can still maintain a relationship and see their children. Family Sense currently serves 38 families.
Trained and certified staff monitor the entire visit, taking notes on the behaviors of the children and the parents that are available to each parent and to the court.
Judge Newman said this helps him do his job.
"This information has been invaluable to me, as a judge, in evaluating difficult issues of custody and parenting time," Newman said.
Having a neutral meeting place that is a safe and controlled environment is important for the problems that arise with familial custody issues, Newman said.
"Families in turmoil often draw battle lines between the one parent's side and the other parent's side," he explained. "The neutral and independent setting of Family Sense has allowed relations to continue during the turmoil."
The ripple effects that Newman referenced before comes from the fact there is no other comparable service in Josephine County, as other programs offered through the Oregon Department of Human Services don't apply to families who either don't qualify for or aren't part of the child welfare system.
"Where the loss will be most deeply felt is in the very common situation where local relatives or friends are not trusted by the parents, and a neutral, skilled supervisor is needed," Newman said.
Family Sense is one of the local services offered by the organization Family Solutions, which offers programs in Jackson and Josephine counties that assist children and families through therapy or with shelters for children between 7 and 12 years old.
"We have an array of services aimed at keeping children in their homes, schools and communities rather than in institutions," said Family Solutions Executive Director Thomas Johnson.
Those other services will remain open, but the Family Sense visitation center cannot continue due to space concerns.
"One reason that the program is closing is that we occupy three rooms of a roughly 5,000-square-foot building," said Johnson.
The facility, at 302 N.W. F St., across from Family Solutions' main Grants Pass offices, houses other family services as well and is slated to be renovated into a young boys' shelter.
Johnson said the program has never been particularly profitable, as it's a relatively small service that, by its nature, doesn't charge people as much as it costs to run.
"Generally these families aren't able to afford what it would cost for staff and to use the facility," Johnson said. "If we charge too much, we lose those families."
Visitations cost $44 per hour, which Johnson said still can't cover all the program expenses.
"We've kept the program running for 20 years and been able to support with other monies within the organization, but the changes with the building and rising costs have taken their toll," he said.
Johnson said that the group looked into grants and funding that might be able to keep them open, but none bore any fruit.
However, Johnson hopes that if there is another local nonprofit whose mission lines up with what Family Sense does, that it might be able to provide the space to continue offering this service.
"It's a relatively small program," Johnson said. "It can be operated with minimal staff, it's only open a few hours a day, and it takes up very little space."
The program right now uses three spaces: a waiting room, a baby room for smaller children, and a larger room for older children and larger families.
Program Director Alexis Goff demonstrated on Friday how each of the visitation rooms are equipped with toys and comfortable spaces for parents to play with their children in an intimate, albeit monitored, space.
"It's a great program, it's just all about space at this point," Goff said.
Johnson said that the group would be happy to partner with another organization to save the service that has become so relied upon by the local Family Court.
"It's a really good program and it would be great if it could find a new home," he said.