Core Partnership In General
  • Is there information available to help guide the formation, function, and operation of consulting or advisory committees?

Answer Provided By: Ona Foster – Supervised Visitation Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice, Washington, DC

A consulting committee for your supervised visitation program should have four key core partners involved. The first core partner would be the government partner, and you also are going to need a judicial partner, a domestic violence advocacy partner, and of course the supervised visitation partner.

Above and beyond that, a number of key community stakeholders can be involved as well. These key stakeholders can help to inform your work, help you create policies, and troubleshoot on your consulting committee. They can be from a variety of sources in your community that you can identify such as mental health providers, child abuse prevention services, there may be other domestic violence agencies that you would like to have at the table, the faith community. There’s a pretty wide range of folks who can be helpful to your work.

  • What are some ways to keep our community collaborative actively engaged in our program?

Answer Provided By: Ona Foster – Supervised Visitation Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice, Washington, DC

There are a number of ways to keep your community partners actively engaged in your work. Certainly, as members of a consulting committee, these community partners really need tasks and things to do. You can bring those tasks to them, you can split them up in small sub groups, you can have them working on different things so that they feel useful.

Another key component is building relationships with them. A good way to build relationships with community partners is to provide training for them or even take them to training that is outside of the community. It’s a great way to build relationships. When you take someone to an outside training, you have time to meet with them over lunch; you can talk about the curriculum that they’ve experienced, so it’s a really nice way to create those relationships. You can also host luncheons and open houses and those types of things to bring people to see the visitation center and can create relationships that way as well.

Supervised Visitation Providers
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing extended family at a visit?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

Having extended family come to visits is one of the services that supervised visitation programs should consider. It can be a great advantage to programs because you’re allowing other family members to participate and be there and in doing that you’re being respectful, you’re being fair, in many cases it’s being culturally respective to the people of the community. In many communities, the definition of family is not just what people traditionally think of as mother, father, and maybe son and daughter, but it includes extended family members.

Having extended family members also allows the visiting parent (sic) to process with the visiting parent after the visit about the experience which can also enhance safety. The disadvantage of having an extended family member at a visit is that sometimes the extended family members don’t understand the seriousness of a court order and what that means and what the implications of that are. A lot of extended family members will often push the envelope a little more in terms of what should be talked about and not talked about and extended family members sometimes can encourage visiting parents to do things you don’t want them to do.

  • What types of visitation monitors are most commonly used?

Answer Provided By: Ona Foster – Supervised Visitation Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice, Washington, DC

Typically, in visitation centers, the staff that are used are mainly full-time or part-time paid staff. Some visitation centers use contract staff, but with contract staff visitation centers have to think through issues such as communicating with multiple contract staff that may not be around as much as full or part-time paid staff and certain state and local laws that may govern how contract workers can be trained or managed. Sometimes volunteers are used, sometimes interns are used through universities. These types of methods can be very effective as long as appropriate training is provided, which certainly also applies to full and part-time staff.

  • How can we find funding to sustain our supervised visitation and safe exchange program?

Answer Provided By: Ona Foster – Supervised Visitation Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice, Washington, DC

Programs can receive funding and sustain their program in a variety of ways. One of the first ways is through relationships with their core government partner. When communities and visitation centers build relationships with their government partner, they can create opportunities for funding to come from that local seat of government.

Additionally, supervised visitation centers can do outreach into the community and hold fundraising events, many of them become United Way partners, and can also seek funding through foundations and other community organizations that support the work of the visitation center.

  • Where can we get more information about domestic violence services and resources for families using our supervised visitation and safe exchange center?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

There are a number of places where you can get information about domestic violence services, legal services, and other community resources for your families. One, you can use your local domestic violence program to access what type of domestic violence services might be available through their agency and through other partners. You can access a civil legal or legal aid type program that will have information and services around different legal issues, accessing the courts, getting court orders, those types of things. There’s also other community agencies, family resource centers, and programs like that that would be able to serve the families using your center.

  • Who decides where families will go for supervised visitation or exchanges?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

Ideally that needs to be a collaborative decision made based on the protocol and the policies of the visitation center and a well informed court, together with the information that the court’s determining from the court proceedings and based on the level of facilities that are available in that community, that needs to be a collaborative decision.

  • How can supervised visitation and exchange centers provide meaningful access to resources and advocacy?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

First and foremost, a way to ensure meaningful access to resources and advocacy for the families using your center is to build relationships with the programs in which you hope to make those referrals. Those relationships are not just handing out a business card, or knowing that they exist, but really knowing the staff, knowing what the agency provides, having somebody who can pick up the phone and call and say, “I’m working with this person, they’ve given me permission to talk with you, do you have a minute? Could you connect with them?”

Identify those referral sources. Know who it is that can provide support and services to the families using your center. Talking to the families using your center and identifying what are their needs and helping them connect with the different programs that might help best meet those needs that you’re not able to provide. Developing policies around sharing information with these programs. Having policies around how you come together as community partners. Cross training is another way to ensure that you make sure that meaningful access happens.

We often know who a program is, but we don’t have the information and the relationship with the people at the program so that when we send people over we don’t know if they even make the call or are getting what they need. To ensure that it’s not just a business card referral, but that it’s meaningful access means that we need to have relationships and an institutionalized protocol for how we refer people out to different programs.

  • What types of documentation should be sent to the courts?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

When thinking about what to document at a supervised visit or a supervised exchange there are a lot of considerations that a program and a community collaborative really need to consider. What we think about in terms of what should be sent to the court; we’re really thinking about things that are tied to the referral source, so these are things tied to safety.

For example, a court’s going to want to know if a critical incident has happened, you are going to want to send that. In your community, you are going to have to define what “critical incident” means. There’s a lot of discussion about that in the national community about supervised visitation and exchange, but local communities have to be talking about what this means. For example, this could mean if a parent affects the safety of the other parent, or the child, or if it means the child refuses to come, this might be a consideration. It’s really this documentation related and tied to the referral source is what the court is going to want to know about.

Generally, they are going to want to know, did people come, did they show up, did they come on time, who was there, and what service took place, but not really a whole lot more than that.

  • What are the training requirements for a supervised visitation provider?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

In terms of thinking about the training requirements for a supervised visitation provider, you want to be thinking about some large topic areas, but it also needs to be very experiential. I know in this field there is no sort of formal education to be a supervised visitation provider, but you can think about what it means to understand, to know, to have empathy for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence.

So, at a very basic minimum, some training. We have to make sure that training also includes some experiential learning. A supervised visitation provider in a community, part of their training should also include getting to understand and know the roles of the other collaborators. For example, observing a court experience, maybe an order for protection court or a similar court where a lot of restraining orders are being put in place would be a great place for a supervised visitation provider to understand the larger context in which people come in and also to understand and hear the testimonies and the issues that get brought up as referrals come in.

Mentoring of new staff is extremely important. We wouldn’t really want to send anyone out on their first scheduling of a call, we would want to have people listening in and hearing what could happen and what gets brought up. That includes not just with the parents, but also with their attorneys and other service providers is really important.

An easy mechanism to do that with is through role-play so doing a lot of role-play with staff is really important and including advocate partners in that. Supervised visitation providers should always spend a lot of time talking with the advocate partners and talking with them and learning from them about what their experiences and understanding the issues that are important.

Supervised visitation program providers, some of them also require additional trainings. For example, maybe something related to crisis work or if a medical emergency happened related to a crisis incident. New providers need training. What if a parent tries to kidnap a child, what are we going to do, what’s going to be our response, what are the procedures in place? And, not just having the new employee read the manual, but actually go through some sort of role-play or some sort of procedure and actually showing people how all that works.

  • What are the boundaries between parent responsibility and provider responsibility for children during the provision of services?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

The boundaries in a visitation center are important, and how we maintain and create our boundaries and think about our role as a visitation provider and the role of a parent who’s visiting their children really has to be grounded in values and beliefs and safety that surround an understanding of battering and the issues that families face coming to our center. Our role as a visitation provider is not to do everything for the families coming to the center, but it is to really support the families in moving forward in a positive way, in a safe way.

For example, diaper changing is one that comes up as an example for me. Most centers say that a parent is responsible for changing their child’s diaper, in cases where it is safe or we don’t have allegations of child sexual abuse, but for some parents they have never changed a diaper and that can be really frustrating and overwhelming. Initially, if we just have a blanket policy that says we don’t change diapers, you’re responsible for changing diapers, and a parent’s never done that before, we may really be setting them up for frustration, for being overwhelmed, in a situation that is already really difficult.

If we see our role not as always changing that child’s diaper, but supporting parents to learn the skills and tools they need so that they can change that child’s diaper, we are going to have much better outcomes for our work and families that are safer. Because if I am not frustrated and overwhelmed every time I come to the center, then I am not as likely to act out and to continue escalating in my violence; however, for some families there’s a sense of entitlement.

Based on the unique needs and the family that’s coming before you, you will determine how you can support this family to enhance safety, to be a better parent, and at the same time not take advantage or use the center in a way to deny their role of parenting when they’re coming to the center.

  • What is the relationship between the supervised visitation center and the court?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Ramona Gonzalez – Circuit Court Judge, LaCrosse County, WI

This question can be a little bit tricky, because the supervised visitation center is a partner, a collaborative partner, of the court, but it cannot be the eyes and ears of the court. It is important that the supervised visitation center does not become an extension of any custody dispute between the parties. The court acts as the referral partner to send the families to the visitation for safe, risk-free, hopefully risk-free, visitation and supervision. The center itself provides that environment where families, parents, and children, can have contact without the risk of violence or harm, but it is not a place to work out the custody dispute that is before the court.

  • In what types of situations is it appropriate for a supervised visitation provider to make a parenting or custody recommendation to the court?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Victor Reyes – Judge, Pueblo County, CO

It is never appropriate for a supervised visitation monitor to make recommendations related to child custody issues to the court. The supervised visitation center has a purpose, and that purpose is to provide a safe environment for the visit. The monitors usually are not qualified to be making custody recommendations and they should never be making custody recommendations to the court. The old model upon which a lot of these supervised visitation centers were based upon come from the dependency and neglect cases or child abuse cases where social workers would monitor visits and then come back and make recommendations to the court. Sometimes courts have a hard time getting that model out of their head when dealing with the issues of supervised visitation and it is not the role of the monitor to be making those kinds of recommendations.

  • How long does it take for a family to start receiving services once they have made initial contact with the supervised visitation center?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

How long it takes a family to start receiving services once you receive the initial contact depends on a lot of factors. It depends on whether the center has a waiting list, what its capacity is, how often the supervised visitation or exchange is ordered in terms of its frequency, but communities can set themselves up in different ways. For example, if a supervised visitation center spends some time in an order for protection court and makes its first initial contact there to set it up as soon as possible, then it could be very soon.

Sometimes courts, in rare scenarios, need programs to have some things done very quickly, but the same safety mechanisms need to be in place in terms of having an intake or an orientation to the service, an orientation to what it means to have the service, and to think about how it’s going to play out. So that initial contact between when it’s first ordered or the first initial contact and when the service is actually going to happen, that depends community to community based on the capacity, but supervised visitation providers in most cases need to balance safety with access, the access part can also increase the safety. Which means that, for example, if a man who’s battered the woman has been ordered to supervised visitation and it’s taking a really long time from that initial contact to the first visit, in many cases what can happen is that man who batters will get back to the woman in legal and illegal ways and cause harm or jeopardize the safety of that person. This is part of the larger context that supervised visitation programs really need to be thinking about.

Often it’s a capacity issue about services and waiting lists and funding are often also in the background of when that initially can occur.

  • What are the arrival and departure procedures for custodial and non-custodial parents?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

In visitation and safe exchange programs that are providing safety for adult victims and children and really accounting for the dynamics of domestic violence, offering staggered arrival and departure times is an essential service and ensuring that the parents don’t have contact when they come to the center helps to ensure that safety.

When offering staggered arrival and departure times, it’s also important to consider the parent who needs protection. That parent needing protection is not always the parent with custody of the children; sometimes it’s the parent who’s the visiting parent. So, when you set up your policies and procedures and when you’re thinking about who comes first and who comes second you really want to consider who needs protection from whom.

So, very often having the parent who needs protection come second helps you to know when that parent who may be causing harm is already at the center. There are a number of things we can do working with that parent that needs protection to help support them in getting to the center as safely as possible without having any contact with that other parent.

So, to not have a blanket this parent comes first and this parent comes second policy will help you to ensure the safety of individual families coming to your center. You’ll want to talk to the parent who is the victim of domestic violence to see how they will feel most safe coming to your center and then create your staggered arrival and departure times based on the safety of that parent, regardless of whether or not they’re the visiting or custodial parent.

  • What evaluation criteria do programs use to gauge effectiveness or efficiency?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

The best way to gauge the effectiveness and efficiency of your program is to talk to the people, and the stakeholders, who use and benefit from your program. For example, conducting focus groups with the women, men, and children who come to your center and with the community partners, your court partners, your domestic violence partners, other community based organizations that may be making referrals, and hearing back from people about their experience and what’s happening. It’s really some of the best ways to learn what’s working and what’s not working, as well as client surveys, to the best of your ability some sort of exit interview with folks who may be transitioning on or may be leaving your services for a number of different reasons.

In addition to talking to people and learning from them what’s working and what’s not working about your program, if you’re funded through the Safe Haven’s grant program you are required semi-annually to report on the effectiveness and efficiency of the services you are providing.

  • What are some considerations for site selection?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

Supervised visitation and exchange programs, when selecting a site, should consider a number of things. One of the things they should consider is what is the physical layout of the space and, for example, considerations for separate parking lots, separate entrances, and being accessible within the community. For example, if you’re in a community that has a bus line, you might want to consider to be close to that bus line if transportation is going to be a problem. You’re going to want to have a facility or a site that has easy access to law enforcement. You’re going to want to make sure that that site has security systems in place to make sure that the proper safety procedures can be followed for when the families come there. A lot of other considerations. This is best determined by a local committee, but those are just some of the considerations you might want to think about.

  • How do programs control for bias in service delivery?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

Controlling for bias in your service delivery is an ongoing part of our work. It is essential for us as visitation monitors, as directors, as program coordinators, as community partners to always be in a process of looking at: What is my bias? What do I bring to the table? What are the issues that are triggers for me, or issues for me? What are the things I need to look at as far as culture, and cultural humility, and my own life experiences that may impact the way I do my work? It’s not one thing that we do, it’s an ongoing process. It happens through training, it happens through staff meetings, it happens in an ongoing way throughout the course of our work and in our community partnerships to always be looking at what might get in the way of providing open, honest, non-judgmental services to the people who need our support the most.

  • How long is each supervised visit?

Answer Provided By: Melissa Scaia – Executive Director, Advocates for Family Peace, Grand Rapids, MN

Each supervised visit typically lasts anywhere from one to two hours in length; however, this can depend on the community, in terms of what the courts are ordering in terms of length of supervised visits, but it can also depend on the capacity of the center. For example, a lot of visitation centers have waiting lists.

Even though a family may want it to be two to three hours, the center simply just doesn’t have the capacity because of the number of families who are ordered to this center, so they have to be shorter in length. Sometimes they are then more frequent in terms of the number of times per week. So, it all depends on the community.

Sometimes it depends on the court order; the court order will specifically say, which can be a challenge for a supervised visitation provider if they don’t have the capacity or the space for that to occur. Also, supervised visitation programs have to consider if a family is going to be here for an extended length of time, let’s say maybe four or five hours, what do we have in terms of this setup for a family to really be spending their time and engaging.

For example, if in your center you are just really not set up well for teenagers to come to a supervised visit, and it’s a four to five hour visit, it could provide a lot of stress on people to be in the same room at the same time with no TV, maybe no electronics, or whatever the capacity is or whatever the availability of activities are in the center, so all those things you have to think about in terms of the length, but typically they’re anywhere from one to two hours at a time.

  • Can supervised visitation and safe exchange programs refuse cases, end visits, or terminate services?

Answer Provided By: Ona Foster – Supervised Visitation Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice, Washington, DC

Supervised visitation programs can and should refuse visits and exchange services when they feel that they cannot safely provide services in those types of cases. Supervised visitation programs are not typically an arm of the court and have autonomy to make decisions based on their capacity to provide safety for families.

Domestic Violence Advocates
  • Who decides where families will go for supervised visitation or exchanges?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Ramona Gonzalez – Circuit Court Judge, LaCrosse County, WI

If the court is lucky, it has a formal supervised visitation and exchange program that it can rely upon, and it really is up to the court to determine where the parties will be referred. Sometimes law enforcement find themselves in a situation where there is no open court case, and so the referral may come from law enforcement.

  • How can advocates participate in creating safety for adult victims of domestic violence and their children?

Answer Provided By: Jennifer Rose – Consultant, San Francisco, CA

There are a number of ways that advocates can participate in ensuring safety for adult victims and children using supervised visitation and safe exchange programs. First is to have a collaborative relationship with your supervised visitation and exchange program, and that relationship isn’t just knowing that they exist, but it’s going to the center, visiting the center, knowing what it looks like, knowing their policies and procedures, being able to describe to the folks you are working with what they can expect when they go to the center. On the flip side of that, it’s being able to have the partnership so you can work with the visitation center so that their policies and procedures are developed and created in a way that best enhance safety for adult victims and their children.

Some other ways to participate can be through cross training. Not just providing training to the visitation center, but receiving training from the visitation center about the issues and things that are happening for them. Participating in staff meetings, to some extent, not necessarily about the exact details of the families that are using the center, but in general being brought in around case scenarios so you can provide your expertise around the issues that face adult victims and their children and really making sure the relationship is reciprocal. Sometimes we have these one-way relationships, and I think as advocates to really engage meaningfully with our supervised visitation programs really will have a long term impact on the post-separation safety for women and children.

  • How does a parent get an order for supervised visitation and safe exchange?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

There’s a number of ways that those orders can be obtained. A protection order hearing often, in addition to orders of protection, can provide parenting plans that should include some level of supervised exchange or visitation. They can also occur through the context of a custody action or a divorce action. Any court case that involves allegations of domestic violence could ultimately lead to an order of visitation coming from the courts. There are parties who voluntarily use services through mediated agreements or through agreements that they’ve reached outside of the court process.

Judges
  • What types of family problems or conflicts make a judicial referral to a Supervised Visitation Program center appropriate?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

There are a number of factors that the court considers when they make a referral, assuming that there is some level of domestic violence that has occurred in the family, the court is going to want to do a lethality assessment to determine, first, if it is safe for there to be any type of contact and also to determine what the impact of that contact is going to have on the child or children that are being visited with. Typically, where you can provide safety for both the custodial parent and the children and the contact is not going to cause additional trauma to the children, that’s going to be a safe referral.

Hon. Ramona Gonzalez – Circuit Court Judge, LaCrosse County, WI

For judges it is always a hard decision to make, when to interfere more with a family that is in conflict. If there is a history of domestic violence, that is if the parties have been before the court previously over issues of battering, then it’s really important for the court to consider that kind of visitation arrangement, but you need to be very careful, because families who are in high conflict during custody disputes may have no history of domestic violence, but they may very much need the protection and safety of such a visitation arrangement.

  • How long should an order for supervised visitation last?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

There is no standard order period for supervised visitation orders or even orders of supervised exchange. Those orders should constantly be re-evaluated by the courts through some type of review to determine if, in fact, that level of supervision continues to be necessitated by that relationship or if in fact it’s an effective method of access. There needs to be a constant review of that process both to make resources available for additional families once the protective issues are able to be resolved for that family, but also to determine the level of compliance by those families.

Answer Provided By: Hon. Victor Reyes – Judge, Pueblo County, CO

It should be determined on a total case-by-case basis. Every case has a different set of facts, and there’s different dynamics within the relationship. A court may, based on the specific facts of the case, make a determination that there may be some conditions precedent in an order that have to be met in order for a person to move from a supervised visitation setting to a different type of visitation schedule or a different type of visitation order. A cookie-cutter approach should never be taken on these types of matters.

  • What does a typical order and transitioning plan for supervised visitation and exchange include?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Victor Reyes – Judge, Pueblo County, CO

That is a very difficult question, and courts struggle with that question. The reason is that these types of matters should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. There should be no set time period within the order for a person to transition from a supervised visitation to some type of other visitation arrangements.

The court may, in looking at the case, set conditions precedent. For instance, a condition requiring somebody to complete a batterer’s intervention program, substance abuse treatment program, or some type of other program or treatment modality that is specific to that case before they can graduate from supervised visitation to unsupervised visitation is something that may be considered as part of these orders.

What is very important is that the court not be tied as far as transitioning somebody based upon what their actions are within the center itself during their visits. The centers are there to provide a safe environment; they are not there to provide recommendations to the court as far as transitioning out of the program. The court must not rely solely on what is happing during the visits, but must look outside of the visits. Is the person who has been perpetrating violence or perpetrating domestic abuse on their partner, have they stop doing those kind of things, have they left the person alone, have they stopped the stalking, have they made some changes that are legitimate changes in their life and their lifestyle where a court may feel more comfortable in a less secure setting, when you look at issues such as safety for the at-risk parent and the child.

Courts may want to look at, not only did the person go into the batterers intervention program, but how did they do in the program. Did they actually participate? Did they actually get something out of it? This will require judicial reviews in these types of matters. It is important that courts, on a periodic basis, review what is going on with those parties. These matters are not static. They are dynamic, they are always changing, the relationships are always changing, and people do change over the course of time. When looking at a transition plan and a transition time period, judicial reviews are essential for the court to get the information to make decisions that do not put an at-risk parent in any type of difficulty related to their safety.

  • Why should a judge order that visits and exchanges be supervised by a Supervised Visitation Program center, rather than a relative?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

It’s been my experience that when relatives are asked to supervise where there’s issues of domestic violence, if it’s the victim’s family, you could end up putting that victim’s family members at risk as well. I’ve had victims who have gone back to exchanging the children with their abusers rather than continue to subject their family members, who have been designated through court orders or otherwise, because of the level of harassment and abuse and risk that occur to their family members.

The other issue is that if it’s the perpetrator’s family members, because there’s such a high level of denial among perpetrators, it’s sometimes difficult for family members of perpetrators or abusers to appreciate the level of risk that the abusive parent creates for those children, and so they often don’t take those orders of supervision serious. It’s just always better and safer to have an objective, trained, supervision facility. The Safe Havens visitation exchange and supervised visitation centers have the training necessary to not only provide for a safe and protective environment for the children, but also for the safe exchanges and protection of the abused parent.

  • How can my court start the process of establishing a Supervised Visitation Program center?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Ramona Gonzalez – Circuit Court Judge, LaCrosse County, WI

It’s really important to have buy-in from your entire community. The first thing that really needs to be taken a look at, is to do a needs assessment to determine just what kind of needs your particular community may have. Then to structure and put together a group that will take that information and be able to take the ball further, to bring in all of the partners that you need, and to make sure that everyone is on the same page, your judges, law enforcement, your domestic violence advocates, your defense attorneys, your custodial attorneys, the family lawyers, everyone really needs to be considered so that when you’re done, you will have a product that everyone will utilize and be proud of, and in the end you will keep your children and families safe.

Answer Provided By: Hon. Victor Reyes – Judge, Pueblo County, CO

It is essential that a supervised visitation center has total community buy-in, total community support. The center is just not there for brick and mortar, the center is there to provide a very important service to the community as far as keeping victims of domestic abuse and the children of those victims in a safe environment.

The first thing that needs to be done is identify the need for the center within your community. Once you have identified, based upon the types of cases that you have going through, not only your family courts, but maybe courts that issue restraining orders, or even at times the criminal courts, that there is a need within your community, then you have to identify the resources in your community. Look at your total community, don’t just focus on the core little group that just provides services for domestic violence victims, be imaginative, be creative, think outside of the box when you’re thinking about a community collaborative because your supervised visitation center should truly be a community collaborative.

Once you identify those resources, then you have to figure out how to bring those resources together. Identify persons in your community who can be champions for the supervised visitation center. Set up meetings, set up focus groups. You need to inform your community of what’s going on and get people excited about bringing this type of resource into where you are living and the impact of this kind of resource on your community.

Once you have identified who your players are, then what you have to do is make sure that you build relationships that people are going to be trusting each other, people are going to be working together, there’s a tendency sometimes when you bring in two different groups that folks want to guard their territory. What has to be understood is that this is a true collaborative. You’re not there to infringe on what other people are doing, you are there to bring in their expertise, their resources, their knowledge, to work hand-in-hand with other folks in the community, some folks whom people never imagined they would be working with to begin with.

It’s very important that when we are establishing this that you pretty much dissect your community. You see who the players are who can help, who can provide the resources necessary, and who can provide support. The key is to get your community excited about this center coming in and the impact that this center will have on the issues of domestic violence within where you live.

  • What is the relationship between the court and the supervised visitation center?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Victor Reyes – Judge, Pueblo County, CO

The relationship between the supervised visitation center and the court should be one of total collaboration. The court will provide the referrals for the center through their family law cases, or child custody cases, or cases that may involve issues related to restraining orders; however, it is required under the grant that the court be a collaborative partner. When you look at the word “collaborative” it means to work together, to work hand-in-hand. That is what the key is. The court is not there just to stand on the sideline and just provide persons to come in to do their visits, the court must be involved in a deeper level than courts are used to being involved in. The American Bar Association’s model code, 3.1, the commentary, talks about how courts should be engaged in non-profits that involve areas of the law which the court has an interest in. So there’s an ethical basis for the courts to be involved in a lot deeper level than just a referral source. This should be a total collaborative process.

  • In what types of situations is it appropriate for a supervised visitation provider to make a parenting or custody recommendation to the court?

Answer Provided By: Hon. Jerry Bowles – Judge, Jefferson Family Court, KY

It’s my opinion that that’s not the function or the role of a visitation monitor or monitor of exchanges. I think there becomes an inherent risk in what the qualifications are to make those recommendations as well as the realization that an offending parent is going to operate very different in that vacuum of a safe exchange or supervised visitation setting. While we might expect that parent to be very careful in how they interact, batterers can be an extremely manipulative population and it would be very easy to manipulate a supervisor who may not appreciate or understand or have access to the total context of that batterer and the context of the violence in the relationship that led to that supervised order. It’s my preference that a supervisor is strictly there to determine the appropriateness of the contact with the children and to intervene based on the children’s safety.

Units of Government
  • What are the benefits to the county, city, or state of having a Supervised Visitation Program?

Answer Provided By: Carla Bean – Chief District Attorney, Dallas, TX

Benefits to the county, city, or state unit of government for visitation programs, first of all, would be to receive funding for an essential program such as this, and also to provide leadership in the community for safety of children and adult victims, and also to provide inroads to implementation of programs on the county, city, or state level.