For Fairfax County transportation planner David Kline, helping people navigate life’s traffic jams and road blocks is a natural calling – in his personal life, as well as his professional one.
Most Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can find him at the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. He’s donating his time as a visitation monitor volunteer through Stronger Together, a program that helps families stay connected during child custody and visitation controversies.
Those days – and some Mondays and Thursdays – it’s his job to escort children, babies to 17, to court-appointed visits with their non-resident parents. Not only does he ensure these weekly or bi-weekly, 90-minute sessions are advantageous to the child, but he also helps parent and child remain calm so they can maximize their time together.
It’s imperative that someone help families navigate these tough times so they can provide as much normalcy for children as possible, he said.
“I’ve wanted to do this type of thing for a quite a while,” he said. “I like being able to, hopefully, do something to change things that can negatively impact a child’s future.”
That’s why he didn’t hesitate to get involved in 2007 when the county court system sent out a blast email to the nearly 11,000 county employees, looking for volunteers. Volunteer Fairfax, an organization that supports and facilitates volunteering in the county, also called attention to his service last year. He received a benchmark award for volunteering at least 250 hours during the previous 12 months.
With enough volunteers, instead of relying on salaried monitors, the court system can keep the visitation program affordable. In Fairfax County, non-resident parents only pay between $6 and $30 per visit. Most communities don’t have access to a community-funded program that operates at a low cost, leaving private supervision providers to charge several hundred dollars per visit, he said.
“I feel very strongly that children shouldn’t be damaged by their parents. We bring them into this world, and they have their own personalities, needs, and wants,” Kline said. “We need to mentor the children to help them live happy and stable lives.”
As a monitor, Kline plays many roles. He can help parents and children start conversations, or – thanks to his training – he can offer parenting advice to the estranged mother or father. In addition, he mentors new volunteers and interns.
Although the visitations can be fraught with high emotions, Kline said he’s received email feedback from parents, expressing gratitude for being treated with respect throughout the process.
“Parents are going through the process of divorce. They may have lost many financial things or physical things, such as their children,” he said. “They aren’t happy campers, but they come to the program, and we always make a point to treat them with respect and dignity.”