Family visitation center to open in Plaquemine

Deidre Cruse

Two women who saw a need for a supervised visitation center for troubled families expect to see their efforts pay off with the opening of a center in Plaquemine this spring.

Charlene Bishop, a five-year volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program joined with former Iberville CASA coordinator Ladonna Ward to get the program off the ground.

“When they moved the CASA office out of Iberville Parish,  [Ward] said what we really need is a visitation center,” Bishop said.

There is a network of centers nationwide to provide safe and supervised visitation for families affected by domestic violence, but the idea is just coming to Louisiana, she said.

Bishop and Ward visited two Louisiana centers, a privately funded program in Lake Charles and a federally funded program in Thibodaux that is operating on a federal grant they hope to get for the local program.

They got sponsorship from the Capital Area Mediation Center for the “Westside Visitation Center,” which primarily will serve the 18th Judicial District comprising Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes. The mediation center found a small Louisiana Bar Association grant and hired Ward as administrator. Bishop is a volunteer.

The City of Plaquemine is providing the old bathhouse that once served a swimming pool at City Park for the visitation center. The building has been vacant for several years since the Iberville Council on Aging moved out and into a new building on Court Street.

Recently, Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta and the Plaquemine Board of Selectmen agreed to apply and act as fiscal agent for a grant from U. S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Program on behalf of the mediation center.

Bishop said it would be for a $400,000 grant for three years. They applied for it unsuccessfully last year, but she and Ward recently attended a workshop to learn more about what they could do to get the award in hopes of improving their chances this time around.

They are applying for other grants, as well, primarily to train and hire supervisors for the family visits. Bishop and Ward, with special training of their own, will train the personnel.

“It is for people who need to visit their children, but have to do so under supervision,” Bishop said. “We're hiring people to act as supervisors. We probably will contract with them.”

The city has helped with renovations of the building, and volunteers now are painting the interior and moving in furniture, Bishop said.

“Even if we don't get the grant, we are going to open the center,” she said.

They are applying for other funds as well, including a Dow Chemical grant and one from the Children's Trust Fund.

“It's something we really feel is needed in our area,” Bishop said.