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University taking part in $400,000 parental visitation initiative

Federal grant will help 12 Ohio counties explore best practices and policies

Ohio University's College of Health Sciences and Professions will take part in a $400,000, federally funded project aimed at increasing opportunities for children to spend time with both parents when the parents don't live together.

The four-year project will involve 12 Ohio counties, led by Fairfield, and include an array of family support agencies, judicial officials and policy experts involved in parental visitation matters, also known as parenting time. The initiative is titled Parenting Time Opportunities for Children to the 12th power, or PTOC12, and the grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was approved Oct. 2.

The PTOC12 project hopes to create a "best practices" process for establishing parenting time orders.

In its first stage, the project will determine what steps are needed, including possible legal or procedural changes, to ensure that court orders for parenting time for noncustodial parents are established at the same time as orders for paying child support. Parenting time and child support orders are typically not prepared at the same time now, said Carri Brown, deputy director of Fairfield County Job and Family Services, the agency spearheading the project.

"Parents are often in favor of establishing both orders at the same time, and payments of child support are more consistent when there is a healthy parental bond," Brown said.

While the project would deal only with cases in which there is agreement among the parents and no indication of family violence, there will also be a protocol and plan for domestic violence awareness and education, Brown said. Over the life of the four-year PTOC12 project, the hope is that more than 2,000 parenting time orders will be established.

Randy Leite, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) and a professor of child and family studies is spearheading Ohio University's role in the project with an interest in the role of fatherhood, particularly among unmarried fathers. Leite, along with other CHSP faculty and student researchers, will help measure whether the PTOC12 project achieves its goals. Measurements are likely to include factors such as the number of parenting time orders established, the financial costs of these cases, and the rates of child support payments associated with the orders that are established.

The PTOC12 project would be considered successful if it identifies decision paths that could be implemented statewide, according to its grant proposal.

"The project will inform state and national policy," Leite said. "The opportunity to connect scholarly interests with the practical matter of improving lives and the well-being of children is exciting."

The project aligns with Leite's goal of having CHSP establish an Institute for Fathers and Families, in partnership with the Ohio Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families. He envisions an institute that improves the well-being of children and families by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible fathers. The institute would work toward that overall goal by conducting independent research designed to shape policies and programs.

In addition to Fairfield County, the 11 other Ohio counties participating in the PTOC12 project are Coshocton, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Monroe, Pickaway, Stark, Summit, Union and Wayne.

Similar projects have been funded in Indiana, California, Florida and Oregon.