Above and Beyond Friend of Court attorney honored by state council

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Janet Gage, Friend of the Court attorney and referee in Jackson, was recently honored with an award from the Michigan Family Support Council for her hard work in helping parents and children in challenging times. She has devoted many hours of her time, over and above her duties as FOC attorney, on the issue of parenting time for divorced, separated, and never-married parents.

“I was greatly honored to be presented with this award at the Michigan Family Support Council conference on October 5,” she says. “Also, the FOC management and staff members graciously acknowledged my award at a staff meeting on October 18.”

Working closely with the Jackson County Administration, the AWARE Domestic Violence Shelter for women and children, and the Jackson County Courts, Gage helped obtain a $400,000 three-year “Safe-Havens” Supervised Visitation development grant last October from the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), for supervised visitation and exchange services for families affected by domestic violence. Gage serves as grant project director for the County/Grantee. 

The county has donated space in the lower level at 1697 Lansing Avenue in Jackson, where the visitation Center will be housed, operated by staff hired by or under contract with the AWARE Domestic Violence Program. The Jackson County Courts will be a primary source of referrals for supervised parenting time and exchange of children. The center is expected to be operational by February.

In 2005, the Jackson County Friend of the Court office applied for an Access and Visitation Grant, from the State of Michigan, for the supervised exchange of children for parenting time. Gage coordinates the Safe Exchange program at the Jackson County FOC Office. Parents with custody issues, or a history of domestic violence or other misconduct, can exchange their children in a safe, supervised environment. Children are picked up by non-custodial parents on Friday, and returned to custodial parents on Sundays. Similar arrangements are made on many holidays. Safeguards are taken to prevent parents from coming into contact with one another and precautions are taken in cases with a history of, or likelihood of, domestic violence. FOC facilities offer security staff, professional supervisors, cameras, and computer monitoring.

When a long-term grant funded supervised visitation program at the Child and Parent Center in Jackson, serving approximately 60 families per year, ended in 2009, there was a substantial unmet need in the community. In 2009, in an effort to keep some supervised visitation services available, the Friend of the Court requested an amendment to its Access and Visitation Grant to allow use of grant funds for supervised visits, as well as the supervised exchange of children.

Gage has arranged for contract personnel such as social workers and qualified monitors, to provide Court-ordered supervised visits at the FOC office or other locations, in cases where a child could be at risk from the non-custodial parent; needs to get acquainted with the non-custodial parent; or where a relationship between a child and non-custodial parent is strained. The intent is to work with parents and children to establish and carry on normal parenting time in the future without the need of supervision.

“As director of the Friend of the Court, parenting time has always been just as important to me as the collection and distribution of support money,” says Director Andy Crisenbery. “Children have the right to see and know both parents and that’s my concern. It’s always been my hope that we can do more for the families of our community to allow this to happen, especially when a parent or child’s safety are at stake. Now, beginning early next year, The Jackson Family Visitation Center will become a reality, and families affected by domestic violence will be served in a fair, safe and efficient manner.”

The previous two recipients of the Michigan Family Support Council award were Chief Judge Chad Schmucker and Chief Justice Maura Corrigan.

“This makes her award even more meaningful to Janet,” Crisenbery says.

Gage says her work is interesting and challenging.

“I see it as an opportunity to serve parents and children in difficult situations. The FOC is well run, and I’ve enjoyed working with my FOC colleagues, the Jackson County judges and members of the legal community,” she says. 

“I’ve also had the opportunity to manage the SMILE and Forget Me Not programs offered through the Friend of the Court for divorcing or never married parents with minor children.”

Gage, a lifelong Michigan resident who lives in Rives Junction, has worked in Jackson since May 1997. She and husband have 6 adult children and 13 grandchildren, many of whom live in the area. In her leisure time, Gage enjoys family, friends, church, music and quilting.

“I like the small city feel of Jackson, while knowing that there are wonderful activities, restaurants and opportunities here,” she says. “I enjoy working at the FOC, and appreciate the opportunities I’ve had here.”

Gage, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan State University, is a graduate of Cooley Law School in Lansing and last year completed the Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Family Law Certificate Program.

“While working in an administrative capacity for the State, I became interested in entering the field of administrative law. I also had an interest in family law,” she says.

For more information about the program, call (517) 788-4470. 

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