Matt Schippers is still haunted by the night his neighbor bludgeoned his wife to death with a crowbar and set the home on fire to flush out his three children. He will never forget the children’s faces as he escorted them passed their dying mother.
“The look on their face is the reason why I wanted to go into CPS (Child Protective Services) or a similar type of agency,” said Schippers, a 2012 Alumnus from Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice.
Matt SchippersJust as he, his father and brother guided his neighbor’s children to safety on that horrible Christmas Eve in 2009, he continues to steer families to a better place as the Intake Coordinator for the SAFE Supervised Visitation Programs of the Victim Assistance Centre, Inc. in Houston. The SAFE programs provide court-ordered supervision of visits for non-custodial parents and their children when courts make a determination that unsupervised access could place a child or custodial parent at risk. Since it started in 1991, the program has supervised 65,804 child/parent visits totaling 292,932 hours to date.
Families referred by the courts include those with a history of domestic violence, including physical or sexual abuse; those with alcohol or other drug problems, mental health or neglect issues; those who pose flight risks; or those parents needing to re-unite with their child or children after a lengthy absence from the child’s life.
There are eight supervised visitation groups throughout the Houston area, with visits taking place for four hours every other Saturday. Private visits also are available allowing family interaction at a local restaurant or entertainment venue, all under the watchful eye of a trained supervisor. Custodial parents drop-off and pick-up their child without having to have contact with the visiting parent. Local law enforcement officers provide security.
“When you are supervising, you have to be aware of flight risks and make sure the parent doesn’t take off with the child,” Schippers said. “You also have to make sure the parent is not saying anything about the court case or the other party. They just basically come for four hours and play. It is a daycare atmosphere.”
A group visit may have from 20 to 30 children and their visiting parent. Parents are supervised and observation reports are written for each family visit.
Schippers began at the Victim Assistance Centre as an intern in May 2012, but was quickly hired to take over the registration of families for the SAFE Program after his graduation in August. A safety plan is developed for each participant. The caseload for the visitation program is growing, and all sites are at or near capacity.
“We have approximately 20 new families coming into the program each month,” said Schippers. “We are currently in need of two to three new visit locations.”
Families may need services for just a few weeks, while some children will be in the program until they turn 18. Length of supervision is determined by the courts.
The center also provides services to victims of violent crime to meet their physical, emotional, informational and financial needs through direct and indirect services. Free counseling is available. Victims are assisted in applying for Texas Crime Victim Compensation benefits and are guided through the process of registering for the Texas VINE Program that provides notification to crime victims of county jail status and court events. Registration with VINE should be a part of every victim’s safety plan.
The Victim Assistance Centre provides internships and volunteer opportunities for students interested in the victim services field or counseling.
“I was interested in this internship because I get to work with kids,” said Schippers. “I feel like I am helping them.”
For additional information, visit the Victim Assistance Center.