The best parent is both parents. It’s a simple statement, but often not an option. However, it is the motto that Safe Haven of Stark County uses in its day-to-day work. The group aims to help heal the emotional wounds children get from parents who are going through a divorce and other legal issues.

“Children do not view their parents as other adults see them,” said Cindy Bratanov, executive director. “Some of the parents in these cases struggle with mental illness or drug and alcohol related issues. Children see them only as ‘my daddy’ or ‘my mom,’ whom they love unconditionally. Safe Haven does not become involved in legal issues, and does not allow discussion of these issues during visitation sessions.”

The nonprofit agency is designed to provide a safe, non-threatening atmosphere for children. It was created in 2004 by Bratanov in conjunction with the Stark County Family Court. It was started as a church mission through Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton.

The church was approached by The Children’s Rights Council, a worldwide organization. That group offered assistance for the first two years, Bratanov said, noting that Safe Haven also has received grants from several local organizations during its developmental years.

Trinity Lutheran Church recently closed its doors. For Safe Haven to remain open, it developed a board of directors and applied for its own nonprofit status. It is housed at the YWCA in Canton.

“Our mission is to provide an environment, atmosphere and experience that is welcoming, secure, and comfortable for the families of Stark County, so the children, their parents, and other adults in the children’s lives may heal what is injured, repair what is broken, and strengthen what is weak in their relationships,” Bratanov said.

This program very much remains a mission with a heart focused on protecting children.

“All families who participate in Safe Haven Supervised Visitation or Exchange are referred to the program by court order. For these families, Safe Haven offers a transitional setting for parents and children to maintain their relationship. The goal is to move beyond Safe Haven to a stable unsupervised parenting opportunity.”

The agency operates on funds contributed by the Stark County Family Court and the fees paid by the parties involved. Charges are on a sliding fee scale. The agency is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and alternate weekends. Visits last two hours.

“Our monitors are independent contractors who are paid an hourly stipend,” explained Maryl Hart, secretary. “Each must submit to fingerprinting and background checks and have a TB (tuberculosis) test. Safe Haven sponsors also take periodic monitor-training sessions.”

SAFE HAVEN OF STARK COUNTY, INC.

WHAT: Safe Haven provides a neutral, secure program of supervised visitation and child exchange on a weekly and biweekly schedule. Trained staff and volunteers monitor visits and exchanges, and provide written documentation of these visits and exchanges to the Stark County Family Court.

BOARD MEMBERS: Cindy Bratanov, executive director; John Frank, financial officer; Maryl Hart, RMR, secretary; Konrad A. Fuetter, MPA; Pattie Millsaps-Linger, Ph.D.;Terri Simmons-Bentzel, MA, LPC.

PROCEEDS: All proceeds support program.

DONATIONS: Safe Haven is funded by client fees and contributions from the Stark County Family Court. Donations can be sent to Safe Haven of Stark County, 231 Sixth St. NE, Canton, OH 44702. Anyone interested in becoming a monitor may contact Cindy Bratanov at 330-575-7471 or via e-mail at safehaven@ywcacanton.org.

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