Beth McNamara: Hello everyone welcome to today’s audio conference training on crafting visitation center policies that account for battering offered by the Office on Violence Against Women in partnership with Praxis International and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. My name is Beth McNamara and I’m the host for today’s call. OVW supports the notion that grantees have access to technical assistance, training, and support from a variety of organizations and people and while this training is presented by Praxis in partnership with the National Council and we’re supported by OVW as a technical assistance provider for this grant program we want to let you know that the view point, while we try to stay in line with how OVW thinks about this topic and all of the other guiding principles we’re going to be talking about, I want to be very clear that we’re not speaking for OVW, that the points of view are that of the speakers and we also want to continue to thank OVW for supporting these training opportunities.
This is the first of a three part series on crafting visitation center policies. This topic has been a topic that we at Praxis have been examining for a number of years, we had an opportunity to put together a small number of grantees several years ago to start digging into this issue at a round table and then as a follow up to that we have been able to put a whole team of advisors together to start really looking into how we can think about this issue and support our work following this constant struggle that people have had around policy development with visitation centers. So as a result of all of that effort, what we’re going to be talking about today is a combination of all of these brains coming together to say this is a good direction for people to go in, some really tangible things that people can think about. So how we’ve organized our topic today is we’re going to talk about just a theory, specifically nine tips on successful policy development and to do that we have the honor of having three of the most amazing, intelligent women I know and so I’d like to let you know that we have Ellen Pence on the phone who’s the director of Praxis, we have Mo Sheeran who is the director of the Family Violence Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and we have Jane Sedowski who has been a consultant with Praxis and a number of organizations that support the work of moving forward on violence against women and she’s also done an incredible amount of work with the supervised visitation center grant program over the years. So, without further ado, I want to turn over the phone to Ellen.
Ellen Pence: Ok thanks a lot, Beth. Well, my name is Ellen, I’m going to be talking just a little bit about this whole idea of everyone being an OVW grantee and that means you have to develop policies and protocols. If you had them before you got your money you have to re-examine them. If you’re a brand new grantee you have to write policies and protocols. When OVW got into the whole supervised visitation center world they just didn’t come in and say “oh look there’s hundreds and hundreds of supervised visitation centers in the country” and many of them are one person shops and some of them are bigger organizations and we just want to get in and start funding some of those. That’s not really what happened, what happened was there were groups of people who came to the federal government and got legislation through that would say there was a very particular need for a very particular kind of supervised visitation center. And there are centers that will focus on it and pay attention to the needs of families when there is a history of battering going on. What that meant for the supervised visitation center world was that for the first time federal money became available that supervised visitation centers could apply for. It came with this gigantic lens that said this money is for you to figure out how to do these kinds of visits that really take domestic violence into account and protects both the adult victim and the child. Visitation centers generally saw themselves there to protect children during a very high conflict situation between their parents. When OVW came and said, no, that’s not exactly our view, our view is that you’re here to protect victims of domestic violence and typically on some level the children are always going to be victimized by it and it’s going to be one of the adults that you’re working with. So all of a sudden this big monkey wrench gets thrown into the supervised visitation center world where you have to start giving equal regard to this adult and child victim and that really means a look at policy, procedure, philosophy, and knowledge-base. It has a big impact on visitation centers. OVW came in and said we want you to do something that’s very much like what you were doing but at the same time very different. And so when you think about policy development OVW is asking people to design policy and procedure that takes all of this into account and they don’t have a set of policies and procedures just to hand out and say here use these for two reasons, one is, this is not how across the board visitation has been done for the last 15 years, this is something new, so it’s an emerging field and so there isn’t this perfect set of policies to hand out. Secondly when you get a set of policies, procedures and protocols handed to you by the federal government they don’t necessarily reflect the need of your local community but they also aren’t coming from your own way of designing them and getting buy-in and getting people to develop these policies. What OVW wants you to do is take these guiding principles, take your knowledge about domestic violence, work in collaboration and come up with a set of policies that will work in these particular kinds of cases. So that’s the ground work of the basis of this thing. I do want to say that for those of you who have been around a long time this will be easier for you in some ways because you know what to anticipate for all the problems in policy writing. It’s going to be harder for you in other ways because you’re fixed into another way of thinking and talking about these cases and doing policy that now has to be questioned and pushed up against. So it’s easier and harder for old timers than for new timers it’s easier than harder because you don’t have this entrenched way of doing things as being challenged but it’s harder because you don’t have the experience and all of what we’re actually writing policy to deal with. So whichever way you go there’s the pros and cons of being an old timer or a new timer.
OVW came in and really made a shift in the field and said put the adult victim who is being abused and the child at the center of your lens of focus. This is who we are trying to protect in this program and that’s a major shift in principles for many visitation centers. Secondly, visitation centers before basically said we’re here for the children and we’re neutral with the relationship between the father and the mother and now they’re really being asked to eliminate that kind of language and say we have a neutral place, a neutral center that is not his place or her place, we’re neutral in the court case that is going on, we’re not going to advocate for her or for him. There are elements of neutrality in what’s being done but we’re not a neutral center, we’re here to protect some people who are in the center from other people who are in the center and that is shifting away from this kind of blanket notion of neutrality. Another principle was to be fair and to be respectful to the people regardless of whether or not you’re there to protect them or regardless or not if they’re there as offenders, perpetrators, abusers. They are to have, as clients of your center fairness and respect, it has to be afforded to everyone equally.
The other one is that you really need to be domestic violence savvy, to know domestic violence. I know that when I first got into going around visitation centers people would say well we’re not really experts in domestic violence, well if you’re going to use this money and be in the safe havens program and you’re going to deal with these clients, you’ve got to be an expert in domestic violence and that will develop over years. You’re going to start to develop a real expertise and as time goes on you will be experts in domestic violence, so this principle is saying that has to be the sense of where you’re going. Understanding what is domestic violence, the differences between kinds of domestic violence, the notion of what makes situations dangerous, all of that is something that you need to build your policies around and your capacity as an organization to respond to. The next principle is valuing multi-culturalism and diversity of the people coming in. This is a struggle for every human service agency in the country. How is it that you work with families who come from very, very different cultural backgrounds that have very different customs, different kinds of foods, different kinds of ways of communicating with each other, they have different ways of rearing children, they have different ways of having their funerals, they have different ways of doing everything. When we’re dealing with families that have very different kinds of ways of doing things we can’t come in with this overlay of here, this is the American family, it looks like this and you have to conform to that. So when we start to do things like, he used appropriate gestures towards his child, she was inappropriate in her this of the child, we have to really think of where do these appropriate and inappropriate ideas come from and what is the overlay, some kind of overarching value that we have of what appropriate and inappropriate parenting and is that laid in with any kind of regional, class, race or cultural biases. So this is a challenge for all of us and I think that it’s very hard to find a program that really has it down. We’re moving in that direction in this country of really paying attention to it and trying to address it, it’s a struggle for all of us to figure out how to do this, but it is one of our principles and it is something that we always have to be trying to address.
The next piece of this is that visitation centers in this whole notion back to neutrality is that visitation centers might be, you’re there to protect, for example a woman who’s being battered from her batterer but that doesn’t mean you can take up her whole cause and be her advocate. So within the context of a visitation center, yes you are there to protect her, yes you are there to see that she gets the kind of help that she needs, no you’re not there to be her personal advocate or to go to court with her or to stand up for her in a court procedure. You’re there to create an environment that is safe for her as a woman who’s being battered to either have visits with her children or to bring her children to her former partner to have visits with the children but you’re not there to be her advocate. At the same time, you are there to protect her, part of the collaborative means that you have to make sure that she does have access to an advocate and that that advocacy program understands what’s going on the visitation center, is well connected with you. Which goes into the last principle which is visitation centers are supposed to be operating in the collaboration, it’s supposed to be the visitation center, the courts and the DV community. Protecting the victims of domestic violence within the context of this period of time of separation and within the back drop of some kind of custody access court case going on. So that collaborative means that those three major entities and others come together and figure out how to work on these cases in ways that people don’t keep experiencing harm and that nobody gets killed or seriously injured, these are very volatile times, this period of separation.
So if you keep thinking of these six principles as we’re about writing policy, we’ll keep saying there’s a chance to build in equal regard for adult and child victim, there’s a chance to think about multi culturalism, there’s a chance to think about what DV is all about. So keep these six principles in mind as we move on. I just want to say two more things and we’re going to get in to our nine tips. And that is there are these two basic tenets that the three of us decided we want to operate from as we’re talking and one of them is that whenever, however possible let people keep their own histories, their own stories, their own realities as you work with them as families so we can’t be crunching everybody into one group of people. These are children who refuse to visit, children who refuse to visit for very, very different reasons and policy shouldn’t lump people of very different motivations of doing things together as one group and treat them as one group, policy should allow peoples differences to be accounted for and how the center works. So if you’ve got seven or eight major reasons kids don’t want to visit a parent then your policy can’t just say “here we’re going to this when the child doesn’t want to visit even though that doesn’t really apply well across those seven or eight reasons. So that’s the first tenet write policy in a way that allows people their own stories, their own realities, their own history and the second one is be the change you want to make, in other words we can’t step in a battering situation and become the next kind of control freak, “don’t listen to him” who says you’re crazy, listen to us, you’re just mildly sick you know, we can’t become him with her and at the same time we can’t become him with him so we have to figure out a way of not being naïve about what battering is but at the same time not becoming a super authoritarian figure that steps in and starts to control all of these people because we are trying to create capacity and ability for these two people who are separating where one has typically dominated the other one with violence and children who have been living with that. With typically doing these kind of cases we’re trying to show them, him and her, another way he can be without hurting people and a way she can stand up and take some type of control in her life in a way that doesn’t put her in more danger. So we want to be the change that we want to see we don’t want to recreate the dynamics in battering in how we are but at the same time we can’t be foolish and naïve. These are dangerous situations and we’ve got to keep a lid on a lot of things at a visitation center. So that’s just a little introduction that we wanted to do and then we’re going to move into talking about these nine tips and the way we decided to do this is that one of us would start off talking one tip and the other two would kind of join in as we kind of move forward but before we go on I want to see if Jane or Mo have anything that you want to add to anything I’ve said, Mo I’ll start with you because I know that the Council was the primary organization that orchestrated us all coming up with these six principles together and if you want to say anything additional about them or any other lead in before I do our tips, do you have anything to say Mo?
Maureen Sheeran (Mo): I think if folks have the guiding principles there is the background that is attached to the development of those principles. We consider it a very important foundational work that we did in the early days of the supervised visitation safe havens program as a way to making sure we had a sense of what the direction would and should be in order to really handle the cases you are all going to be dealing with or are already dealing with well. You know Ellen I think you’ve done a pretty good job with describing the tall order that safe havens grantees face. It is in light of that, that frankly the first tip for me as a person who’s worked my entire career in the non-profit sector it’s the one that I actually find the most valuable though they’re all equally important and that is that we should ground our policy in the organization’s mission and values. The organization’s mission serves as the light -house that keeps our organization’s work on course. It points us to who we are, to what we do, to whom we serve, where we’re going. I think it’s really important especially in light of the safe havens program and actually you know as I said a person who’s work in the non-profit my entire career I think it’s sort of foundational to us as leaders in our non-profit organizations to apply that frame. As we engage in on-going services, constantly addressing our mission helps us analyze the degree to which our programs are meeting their goals. It also really helps when our programs like the safe havens program is embedded within a larger collaborative. Ellen said the guiding principles themselves serve as a key resource and help us shape the way that we approach the work when we’re providing supervised visitation and exchange services where there is domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and child abuse. So honestly what we’ve discovered is that without regard to how long the program has been in existence it’s very important for the organization whether it’s from the very beginning or an ongoing process to take the mission statement and overlay the guiding principles.
Ellen: You know that one thing that I would say, Mo, is that it really needs to be a discussion, what is our real mission. Let’s say you’ve got this man and this woman and these three kids that are coming into your center and he’s been battering her for the last six or seven years, she’s made this decision to separate, he’s saying no way are you leaving me and he’s trying to keep her in that relationship, she has broken away and now she’s off and he’s saying ok but you’re not taking the kids and all of a sudden this huge custody fight starts and they’re using the visitation center. That violence maybe escalated during the separation process and so when you think about what’s your mission here and what’s your purpose and function. The question is what is the visitation here to do with this guy? What are you trying to do? Are you merely trying to control his violence against them? Are you trying to help him be a better father? What is your overall goal with him? And then what’s your goal with her? Get her through this process without being hurt too much, have it so that she has a place to bring the kids and you’re only there about the visit? Are you there for something bigger about the visits? They are not going to be in you center past six, seven, eight, nine months. Are you setting them up so they go off and do this alone? So every time he says I want to see the kids Saturday instead of Sunday and she says no way, he’s just manipulating and she doesn’t want to make an adjustment for him. Are you there to help them make these adjustments? Are you there to do what? Because these people are going to leave your center and the question that I would have if I was running the center is “what did we give them while they were here that they can use in the future that would be less harmful than the situation we met when they first came into our center. How can we get them through this period, this first two years of separation which is the most volatile period, the most harmful for the children, the most likely to see serious violence, most likely to see an escalation of even sexual abuse, all for the likelihood of this two years and you’re not there at any time you’re there at the worst time and many people’s lives in terms of domestic violence, it’s that period of separation where everything gets tired? So what is your mission, what is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish and it is not always exactly the same for different visitation centers some visitation centers have, I don’t want to say lost their goals, but they have far reaching goals of what they’re trying to do. Others have more limited goals and visions of what they’re trying to do. So that’s important to do, to sit down and really say what are we doing for the children? What are we doing for victims of violence? What are we doing for parents whether you know both of them have real issues around violence and ability to care for the children in ways that are safe so we’ve got a lot of combinations of people coming into your center and what is the mission and very purpose of being there? If you can’t have those discussions first all of your policies are really going to reflect that mission so that’s got to be your first discussion.
Mo: And don’t you think Ellen, that what we thought and what folks have experienced is that for some the initial introduction of the guiding principles almost seems antithetical to the mission of the organization and for others it seemed completely in line and neither was 100 percent the truth for anybody? That it was in the dialogue just as you said in how to provide the services and tying it back to the mission of the organization and very specifically the approaches that the guiding principles sort of provide the framework for that it really was in those discussions that we found that folks were really able to develop the services in a way that truly helped them address what it was they were trying to do.
Ellen: There’s a lot of tension between the visitation center and the domestic violence community, the advocacy program. Part of that is around that whole question of mission you know visitation domestic violence programs want the mission of the visitation center to be to help women not suffer more when they’re going through a separation. So they want the mission of the organization to be pro-active in terms of understanding the level of suffering.
Mo: I just want to make one final point about the mission statement before the mission and tying it back. In these conversations in the collaborative sometimes the needs of each of the other partners can overwhelm the discourse and that’s just natural, that being sure and clear about the role and the mission of the organization will always sometimes correct direction and help engage in some of the conversations that need to happen.
Ellen: And letting other people know what and why your mission is, is really important.
Jane: Tip number two is understanding the full scope of the policy area or problem. And there’s such a continuum of complexity and difficulty of policy area that as visitation centers you’re going to be working with. Everything from how you determine which cases and which families come into the center, terminating services, do other family members get to be part of visits and in what ways confidentiality report writing, reporting child abuse there is a long, long list of areas. So part of the policy piece comes into really looking at what areas require policy, what areas might keep operating for a while, which require more mega-refinement of existing policies, or fine tuning the administrative procedure, or the supervision that goes into place. That basic processe of looking at what are we talking about here. So for example, if you’re looking at children who are reluctant to visit as Ellen was emphasizing at the beginning, it’s not clunking down one piece that’s going to apply in every situation but it’s understanding what’s the scope for that, so some things that go into that, are really looking and understanding how does a visitation case supervised exchange actually move through the center, how do people come through the door, what kind of conversations do we have, how do we explain what we do, what does it look like on the actual visit or exchange, what kind of documentation and report writing so, laying out what happens when families come through the door and receive our services. It’s about talking with those who are using the services, talking with the parents, talking with the kids, talking with people who are working in the center, staff and volunteers. So for example, if you’re looking at children who are reluctant to visit you might have some interviews and check-ins with parents and find out what’s going on. You might kind of look at different sample group of cases and experiences and say well what is going on here? Is there anything we can learn from what happened in this situation that looks different here that is going to help us figure out how to put this together. It’s talking with advocates and partners and other key practitioners and members of your collaboration and community. It’s coming back to visitation center staff using it as if it’s a forum to examine what the problem area is, what practices that we’re wanting to shape policy around and drawing on that expertise outside the center as well. So that could be something like these audio conference trainings where you’re drawing on different points of reference and perspectives around supervised visitation. It might be making a TA call “Oh we’re really frustrated here, we’re trying to figure out what should be happening around this policy area can you link us with a center or someone that’s been giving some thought to this and can help us figure it out?” but it’s stepping back in making sure we’re paying attention to what the problem area is, what are we trying to address here, and this might be an area too where we are particularly looking at how are we understand those aspects of battering and domestic violence and bringing that into the discussion and how are we making use of our community collaboration and understanding that.
Ellen: What areas of policy do we really need to have in this blueprint and let’s not make a policy for every little thing someone does. Let’s make a policy for every major area. Don’t try to over write policy, don’t try to write for every single little thing that happens, every exchange because policy is something as an organization you have to be held accountable to everyday and when you have too much policy you have too much restrictions really on people’s ability to act in some ways.
Ok so Stay and Client Centered is our third tip. You know sometimes when you start to write policy you start to think of all the things that can go wrong in a center. And that’s stay liability centered so if you just think about it that way like “Oh my God we don’t want this to happen, we don’t want to this happen, we don’t want anybody to get in who’s drunk, we don’t want this, we don’t want that, so your policies become like this set of rules almost of things that protect you as an organization from lawsuits and things like that. So while you have to have your protection in mind when you’re writing policies you don’t want your policies to be so liability centered you want them to be client-centered, or the people who are coming in. So whatever you’re thinking, if you do this thing of, ok let’s say we’re going to start with how the courts or anyone who’s going to refer or help people come into to our center, there’s going to be some kind of area policy making about that, who we’re going to take in, who are we not going to take in, and then the next theory is going to be how we’re going to take them in, what’s our orientation or intake process going to be like, so you have these right away, these two areas of policy making and when you’re making policy in those you want to try to do policy that works for the different kinds of people that are going to be coming through that door. I’ll give you a little story, one day I went to a visitation center in Michigan and I watched an intake and I watched it through one of those double mirror kind of things that had that double mirror and I introduced myself to the guy that was coming and I said you know I’m here from blah blah blah blah and I’m here to watch how the center works do you mind if I watch your intake and he said no and I said well I’ll be sitting in this other room and I’ll watch you through the glass thing and he said fine. So then I’m watching this intake and the worker is sitting there and she’s got this all these forms and they’re passing them back and forth and she’s asking all these questions and I realized that 95 percent of that intake was there for the purpose of the visitation center to get information, to give him the rules and say this is what you have to do, it was centered around what they needed to do. At the very end of this hour long intake she says is there anything you would like to know or ask? When he came in, it was obvious he was nervous and scared. The whole orientation intake was get what we need to administer this case and policies that can be that same way if you’re writing a policy out of a certain kind of orientation, that’s make sure that nothing goes wrong for us. You’ll end up doing the same thing that worker inadvertently did to that guy who came in and he became kind of an object of this administrative process rather than a human coming in who, yes he was a flawed human, yes he was a batterer, and stuff but he was scared, angry, he was all these kind of things. Uncertain batterers are often times a bigger danger to someone, so treating him well and bringing him in, in a much more humanized way would have actually been better for that woman and those kids. Policies, think of them the same way that you think of people. Close your eyes and think of this person walking to your center and sitting down, write your policy down from that position and then after you’ve written that from their position of what it is that they need to get through this center in a way that’s going to create the least amount of violence, the least amount of continued violence, the least amount of harm to anyone, then you can go back and say did we take care of ourselves in this, and so staying client centered means you have to imagine to be in the shoes of people coming into the center and write policies based on what they need. Now remember I always want to make this distinction between what a batterer needs and what a batterer wants because those are very different things and so you have to think in terms of he’s coming into this center during a period of separation in which 90 percent of that time he did not want the separation, she’s leaving that relationship or somehow has gotten out of it, this is in battering cases, I know you have other forms of violence against women that’s not battering but in a typical battering case she’s there and afraid and not only afraid of him but for the first time independent of him in some way and the children often times become the instrument to pull her back into whatever. Your policies have to ask the question “how can we work with them in a way that causes the least harm?” But not in a way that’s the most authoritarian with them, in other words you can’t write your policies with “I’m not going to let him do this, we’re not going to let him do this,” but how can you bring this guy into a different of way of being, because I keep wanting to emphasize this, visitation centers are for the most part the most interactive social service agency there is in a community with people who are going through battering situations. They have relationships with the children, with the mothers and, with the fathers. They see them on an ongoing basis. They spend more time with them than any other social service agency, centers are in a very unique position to move people away from a very destructive way of being to a very constructive way of being and that’s why being client-centered rather than just administering cases through your process is really important. So an example of a client-centered policy would be, ok I’ve to get these people in here, they’ve got to exchange these kids, she’s got to get out of this so that he can see the kids, then she comes back to pick up the kids, so you’re thinking about the mechanics of all this so you say, well it’s really important that she gets here on time because this whole thing of getting messed up. If she doesn’t get here on time, we’re going to have a policy that says you have to be here within seven minutes or five minutes of your schedule appointment and that policy is there for the efficiency of your organization that has so many slots, etc., etc., etc. The reality of getting four kids dressed, out the door, in the winter, in Chicago, on the L to visitation center is not that they’re going to get there within five minutes every single Wednesday night, it’s not going to happen. There’s going to be a lot of times when that can’t happen, so a client centered approach would be to say what are we going to do when you have a lot of people who can’t. How are we going to adjust, make this work, where you’ve got people who are not going to be here on time and as soon as you make a rule of you have to be here on time, well say we’ll just make exceptions for a few people, you end up putting yourself in an awkward position so that rule of you’ve got to be here at a certain time and when you make that rule and the policy you’re not thinking in a client-centered way. You’re thinking in an administrative way. I just have the answer of when I watch a visitation center, people come in late I look at very harried, harried, women who got several kids and are taking buses and don’t have dependable transportation for getting them there and the fact that they get them all there fairly consistently every week and around the same time is something that should be patted on the back for. And instead what people are feeling when you do focus group of women they’re feeling a real pressure that they’re not doing it right, that they are not good enough, blah blah blah.
Mo: I just wanted to tie in the second tip with the third tip using a real life example that you guys are already dealing with or will be dealing with. And that is when dealing with children or children who refuse to visit and this was actually something that was pointed out to me by Melissa Scaia who has been doing this work for quite some time, is that on the one hand, a child may be refusing to visit because they’re frightened because they may have been sexually assaulted by the person they are visiting they may just have a lot of trauma attached to it on the one hand. On the other hand a child may be refusing to visit because there’s something a lot funner to do on that Friday night than this, a concert or something they might want to go to. So the point of Jane’s tip that it needs to understand the full scope the policy area or the problem in this particular case would be the range of reason why the child might refuse to visit tacked up against why you have a policy around children in visitation and remaining client-centered. So I just wanted to bring those two tips together with a very real life example that was provided to me that I thought was quite illustrative. The other thing that I wanted to point out is, as I started to do supervised visitation work I started looking at what policies where doing to me out in the real world, I think one of the greatest opportunities that we as practitioners or policy makers or whatever can do is experience the policies that control our existence outside and honestly there’s no greater opportunity than watching how the rules in the airline industry and whether they’re designed to serve the industry or designed to serve you. For me it was very illustrative of very specific things that we could do to change the way we work so that the needs of the client were central and not necessarily the needs of the organization.
Ellen: The things about coming late, these things about no gifts. As soon as you get these kind of rigid policies they can just send people nuts because they don’t apply to them in any way. They may be applied to you generally they may apply to you as a visitation center but they don’t apply to this person right now today in a way that makes any sense. And the hostility that engenders people towards the visitation center is not worth the rigidity of that kind of a rule. It’s really important to craft your policies in ways that lets you easily adapt to the situation that this does not apply here obviously is not what we meant to do.
Stephanie: Excuse me Beth, we do have a couple of questions. I have Deanna, your line is open.
Deanna: Hi, a couple of things I wanted to say not so much questions if that’s ok. First of all I don’t know how many other visitation centers are cued in to this call but I personally cannot imagine doing my job on any level without having an extremely good relationship with all the battered woman’s programs because that’s what it takes. You know you have to work together, the other thing too, is that I think that policies can be very important but in our center a lot of times we use policies that are followed by guidelines if that makes any sense. So for instance, if we have a policy that visiting parents show up substance free, however, we also know that some people just absolutely cannot function without having a certain level of substance in their blood stream, especially if it’s a newer separation, would we then say no you cannot see your children because we suspect you’re under the influence or something. That would put her in greater risk because he no doubt would blame her for it. So I think a lot of it is just looking at people individually and you know use some common sense. I mean the bottom line, this is about safety. This is about keeping women and children, battered women and children in a safe place and I think if we just come from that point and someone else said it earlier you know don’t box yourself in and I think that’s a good part of this training and again it feeds into working with the battered women’s program. Supervised visitation centers who are stand-alone who may have good collaborations but if they don’t understand where are battered women’s programs are coming from they’re missing a huge piece if they’re not willing to take that on. So anyway I said what I had to say.
Beth: Thank you and thanks for calling.
Ellen: I want to add a thing to what you’re saying, this idea of chronic alcoholic really everyday gets up and has to have a drink to stop shaking. It isn’t the goal of visitation centers is to let children be in the best environment they can with parents as much as they can without being harmed. I always think about this of myself, my father would drink every day that I remember of my life I don’t think my dad made it through a day without drinking. If I would have been in one of these visitation center I would have never been allowed to see him and he was an important figure in my life. Yes he was an alcoholic, yes he had some flaws but he was an important figure in my life so I think it’s important for exactly what you said is to say who is this person and if I can just say one little thing extra I want to do is that I really end up being very, very clear with batterers and be very, very clear saying I am here to keep you from doing harm to another person but the compassion part of that is to recognize this guy the only reason for doing it isn’t just because it might put her in danger but that he needs to see his children on some level for his own human kind of whatever so if I can make that happen in a way that’s not harmful for those children then I want to do that for him.
Deanna: And the children also, and I know I want to put it in parenthesis but I also believe that most children under many circumstances benefit from having a relationship with their dad so I think that’s important to remember. These children are going to grow up so we have to look ahead and I’m not saying oh you know every child should see their parent again. Look at every situation individually sometimes no it’s not a good idea I fully agree but you know this is where a good training comes in this is where good common sense is important…
Ellen: and good policy…
Deanna: And good policy, I agree.
Ellen: A policy that says you cannot come in here if you’ve had a drink in the last 24 hours then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Ellen: You’re either going to make exceptions to it or you’re going to write it in the first place.
Deanna: I agree, thank you.
Beth: We have another question Stephanie?
Stephanie: Yes we do have Fred, your line is open.
Fred: Yes, my center is fairly new and we haven’t really done anything about policy and displaying any policies and rules on walls. Do you think that would be an appropriate approach to getting information to people about what we expect of them or should we not have something like that posting?
Ellen: Think about you walking into a center and visiting a kid and on the thing it says don’t do this and don’t do that. Not that they would all be in the don’ts but when you start to have those rules on the wall and then you’re there with your child and your child sees these rules and then your child knows these rules and somewhat about you. That’s about being in the client’s shoes. I did go into a visitation center once and it had three rules, be nice, I can’t remember what the other one was but it was quite sweet, and the third one was put away your toys.
Mo: Have fun, was one of them.
Ellen: Oh it was be nice, have fun, and put away your toys. And everything will fit into that so in that way yes, you could, but you see if you start putting those other ones up it’s just a reminder to him an authoritarian posture.
Fred: Yes because I had the Duluth wheel of power and control and I think that at other centers I was just wondering about that whether that would be appropriate to put something like that up.
Mo: Now you’re pushing her buttons.
Beth: You’re talking to the developer of that wheel.
Ellen: That’s my wheel, Fred (laughs) of course you put it up.
Mo: One thing I do like when I walk into something and I see values up there.
Jane: That comes back to that mission piece that we started out with too. Being able to articulate mission and values. Which probably have a more kind of welcoming?
Mo: And it kind of serves as a contract in articulating values in the organization. The organization is being transparent about its contract with the people it serves.
Ellen: But I guess your answer is don’t be putting them on the wall necessarily.
Fred: Thank you.
Ellen: Ok, thank you.
Beth: Do we have any other questions Stephanie?
Stephanie: Yes we do have a follow up from Deanna. Your line is open.
Deanna: In our center we don’t have anything up on the wall that is not child centered, nurturing you know things like that. What we do is during the intake we talk about the handbook we give out to parents so whether it’s what time they’re supposed to arrive, pick up after themselves, you know whatever the situation might be we have it in the handbook so they have a good idea about what to expect, for instance, it says in our handbook one of our policies is we don’t just say be nice because people interpret that very differently so we say what is unacceptable is no shouting, yelling, threatening behavior, shaming the child, you know
Beth: Accounting for people’s diverse needs.
Ellen: Yes, I actually think we’ve talked about that quite a bit. But I do think that it’s the whole notion of people walking through your door. If you think of everyone walking through your door of having a history and of having a cultural background. If you were going to plan my best example of this is, is thinking about funerals if you think about going to a funeral of a friend of yours that died that’s from a different culture, from a whole different background from you that funeral would look very different from what you’re use to. And you’ve got people coming to this center that have very different ways of dealing with family, with food, all of these kinds of things and they have needs and experiences that are very different so the degree in which every policy say how would this fit and try to pick three people from very different cultural/race/economic backgrounds and sit them through that policy and if they all fit well you’re probably doing good. And if it works really good for this group not for that group then your policy needs to shift. That would be the easiest tip on that.
Beth: Tip number five seeking broad ownership and buy in.
Jane: I think it’s very much related to tip number two which is the understanding scope policy area as well as number three’s think client-centered but it’s very consciously and deliberately going out and talking and bringing in core groups, parents using the center, children, advocates, court partners, not doing it in the back and not sort of presenting something per comment and accomplished and basically wanting that good old handy rubber stamp but bringing people in from the front end. There is a saying in the disability rights movement, nothing about us without us, so if you’re making policy that affects my life then I need to be there and be involved and have a stake in it. So it’s really doing that in a very conscious way both with people using the center as well as collaborative partners.
Ellen: The golden nugget of this one is for every policy that you think you want, put it out in front of your staff and everyone else and say we need three reasons why this will backfire on someone. If people come up with the unintended consequence then re-write your policy so those unintended consequences all disappear. That’s the golden nugget to give you a great example that Deanna brought up earlier where you cannot come into the center if you’ve had a drink within the last 24 hours or drugs. The unintended consequence of that is cutting chronic alcoholics from having a chance to see their kids. They’re not going to be in their parenting role with them every single minute of the day but they’re going to have ongoing contact. Kids don’t lose contact with a parent because of their alcoholism and that’s not what you mean to do but that’s what in fact happens and so that’s the tip three.
Beth: Ok golden nugget still Ellen with tip number seven make assumptions behind the policy trend.
Ellen: You know the policy behind no alcohol is it would be challenging to a child if they are there talking with somebody who can’t function and so that’s what you want to prevent. You don’t want to prevent the person who had the drink so they could function, you want to prevent the one that can’t function and once you try to say what is it that you want to accomplish some of these other things then come up. And there’s a better way than writing it. Also people sometimes don’t understand the assumption behind the policy and then they implement it improperly because they think this is what we’re trying to accomplish. So every time you write a policy there should be a written narrative some place that explains what the intent of that was.
Beth: Ok, Mo gold nugget tip number eight keep the policy distinct from the operating procedure.
Mo: Ok, I’m just going to make a few statements that policies are changeable but not so easily. Look at policies like something that requires something much more formal like the board of directors signs off on it. Procedures themselves are far more concrete so a policy may be to keep separate files on either parent. The procedure is keep separate files locked in the file cabinet. Don’t forget to give the keys back to so and so at the end of it. So keep those very separate and look at the policies as something that requires much more dialogue and much more of a formal process to change versus simply changing the procedure or adapting the procedure to make the policy work.
Beth: Beautiful. Jane tip number nine.
Jane: Ok, establishing visitation. Accountability and evaluation plans the golden nugget. You have to make it real that you can have the greatest policy in the world but unless there’s procedures, supervision, training, attention to accountability it’s not going to mean much. And if this doesn’t mean that you hand somebody 20 or however many pages of paper and at the bottom there’s a form that says I have read and agree to follow all these policies sign and date which, all too often is the accountability measure but it does nothing to make it real and put in to practice.
Beth: I thought it was important that you at least hear the nine tips so that you can put it in context to what you’re going to hear next week and the following week and to let you know we have these three amazing brilliant women back with us next week the same phone number the same time and we’ll continue our conversation. Thank you to Ellen, and Mo and Jane for taking the time to do this. We appreciate the time you’re taking and we know that you’re coming to these calls with lots of questions, lots of struggles, and lots of different places. There’s people without a center trying to open their doors and their struggling to get their policies written and approved and then there’s people that have been doing this for a long time so we learn from each other. We all share and grow with each other so we hope that this has been helpful. Thank you to everyone.