Editor's note: Helping Hands is a Sunday column offering our area nonprofit groups a chance to talk about their work. If your group would like to be considered for participation, email jperry@dlnewspapers.com. This column is by Kayla Keena, Positive Connections director.

Have you ever heard of a parenting time center before, or what purpose and population it may serve? Many people haven’t despite its high demand and importance!

Positive Connections (PC) is a parenting time center and program of Lakes Crisis & Resource Center right here in Detroit Lakes.

Parenting time centers exist to provide a safe, supervised and neutral location for children to visit their parents when they have been removed from the home. Children may be in out-of-home placement for various reasons including neglect, abuse, drug use or assault.

Unfortunately, these situations are occurring all around us. PC also serves families experiencing conflict or who may disagree regarding parenting time. We aid as a neutral and unbiased third party. This helps prevent negative interaction between co-parents, thereby reducing stress for the entire family. This is particularly helpful for children who often feel stuck in the middle of family conflict.

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We offer a home-like setting with three visitation rooms including furnished kitchens, comfortable couches, toys, games and an outdoor playground.

All services are supervised by trained facilitators and documented in an unbiased and factual way. The majority of our clients are through Child Protective Services, so our documentation gives the assigned social worker an accurate and unbiased look into how parenting time is going. In Private Pay cases, our documentation is often requested for review in court during a custody or parenting time hearing.

In addition to documentation, facilitators also help maintain the physical and emotional safety of children throughout the visit. We have policies in place during visitation that prohibit certain topics from being discussed such as court proceedings, discussion of living arrangements or situations that may have resulted in the need for services, etc. Facilitators can help parents repair relationships while also restoring and strengthening family bonds.

Something that sets us apart from other centers is our Nurturing Parent curriculum. This additional service provides one-on-one instruction time with a parent coach each week to work on parenting skills. Parents are referred by their social worker to take an assessment and receive a customized parenting plan.

It helps recognize strengths and identify areas for improvement. Skills are discussed and taught, and then implementation can occur during visitation and parents receive immediate feedback.

Visitation length is typically two-hours long and is scheduled according to court order and program availability. We are open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and weekends 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Working at Positive Connections is extremely rewarding. Although we see difficult cases and plenty of apprehensive children, we know we are there to provide a positive and safe experience; we become this mending bridge for separated families. I have seen countless children that bond with our staff and when they come for a visit and see us, they just relax. Those children become familiar with a new sense of safety here. One teenage boy has even hugged a facilitator, teary eyed, and thanked them for their time so he could visit his mom that day after school.

Parents also recognize our purpose and express their gratitude for our services. We hear statements like “I never would have made it through my case if it wasn’t for the staff’s encouragement and the opportunity to spend time with, and love my children at PC.”

It’s a loud testament to how impactful a program like PC can be. It may be bitter sweet work, but we know we have made a difference when later on we bump into a past client and they thank us, or their kids still reach out for a hug.