Project Visitation: Reuniting
Hawaii’s Foster Children

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

The holiday season brings joy and happiness to Hawaii’s keiki. Island families traditionally celebrate together during that special time. However, for children in state foster care, their families are separated and simply can’t be together. Luckily, there is hope for these kids. Project Visitation, a unique, local, grass-roots organization created to maintain relationships between siblings who are separated in foster care, earnestly tries to cure this frustrating divide.

Project Visitation is the brainchild of Family Court Judge R. Mark Browning. Our family courts and government agencies, together with Judge Browning, work very diligently to protect Hawaii’s keiki and to provide them with safe housing, care and supervision in our foster care system. Because some of these children come from large families, siblings are commonly split into different foster homes. For example, in a four-sibling family, two children may be in a foster home in Waimanalo, while their two siblings are in a Waianae home. These kids don’t see their brothers and sisters for long periods of time. Not only are many of these children abandoned or taken away by their parents, they are denied contact with each other. Judge Browning quickly recognized this divide as a major problem.

In 2001, Judge Browning and the Na Keiki Law Center, a project of Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, founded Project Visitation. The project’s goal is to organize monthly visitation among same-family foster children located in different homes. Project Visitation requires a successful collaboration between family court, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Human Services, Friends of Foster Kids and the Hawaii Foster Parents Association, among other entities.

It works. Since 2001, over 200 families have been served by Project Visitation. Remarkably, Project Visitation relies almost entirely on volunteers. There are individual and family volunteers, as well as civic groups such as Rotary, Soroptimist Club and the Venture Club. Volunteers spend an average of seven hours preparing, driving and facilitating each visit. As a true labor of love, the volunteers pay for this with their own money.

Following most visits, volunteers describe an overwhelmingly positive feeling of being involved in “something so right” — allowing children to be with their brothers and sisters.

In the program’s infancy, volunteers believed that activities needed to be provided to keep the children entertained. They quickly discovered that all the children really want is to be with each other and to just know that for at least that one day, they are just like every other kid. They have a “real family” of their own, together again. Sibling visits of this sort serve as a concrete reminder to these children that they are not alone and that they belong to a family who loves and understands them. It is this feeling of Ohana that can provide them hope for a brighter future. It is important to remember that many of these children have had very rough lives, with parents who are abusive, drug users or simply unable to handle them. Prior to entering foster care, they were literally forced to rely on each other, with the older children sometimes taking over the role of parent. This is why separation hurts so and why Project Visitation helps so.

On November 15, 2003, the First Annual Project Visitation Fundraiser Dinner and Silent Auction was held at the Pacific Club. It was a huge success. Coates & Frey was proud to be one of the corporate sponsors. Lieutenant Governor James Duke Aiona, the “spokesfather” of Project Visitation, explained how his experiences as a family and circuit court judge, especially his serving as the first judge of the extremely successful and ground-breaking drug court program, provided him with first-hand knowledge of
the importance of keeping Ohana together through these visits. Judge Mark Browning talked about the feelings of being alone and isolated that foster kids experience and the joy and hope created when children spend time with their brothers and sisters. This fundraiser helped ensure that Project Visitation will provide services to the children of Oahu throughout 2004.

Project Visitation needs your continued support and help. Volunteers, whether individuals, families or groups, are all welcome. For more information about Project Visitation, please contact project coordinator Idea Canevascini at 536-3411 or visit their Web site at

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 25 years. He has been selected as Honolulu’s best divorce lawyer and is the founder of Coates & Frey, Hawaii’s largest family law firm. Mr. Coates wrote an award-winning book, “Divorce with Decency: The Complete How-To Handbook and Survivor’s Guide to the Legal, Emotional, Economic, and Social Issues." This article contains only general information and readers should seek appropriate experts for each individual’s case and/or fact situation. Phone: 524-4854 or visit