Hello everybody and welcome to today’s audio conference and training on crafting visitation policies that account for battering, offered by the Office on Violence Against Women and in partnership with Praxis International and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges my name is Beth McNamara I’m going to be your host for today’s call. The points of view of this call are of the speakers and Praxis and the National Council they don’t necessarily represent the opinions and viewpoints of OVW. We try very hard to stay in line with OVW and the other TA providers but we’re not speaking for them so we want to make sure you knew that.
Today is the second session of the three part-series on crafting visitation center policies today’s topic is the architecture of a good policy. Without further ado we have the privilege and the honor of three amazing women that we had on last week, we have Ellen Pence, Mo Sheeran and Jane Sadusky on our call today. Ellen is the executive director of Praxis, Mo’s the director of the Family Violence Department of the National Council, and Jane is a consultant with Praxis for a great number of years and has been involved for a very long time in the supervised visitation program. I’m going to turn it over to Ellen and she’s going to give us a little brief overview and introduction.
Ellen: Thank you very much Beth. We went over these nine tips of visitation center policies and in doing those nine tips we spent almost about 90 percent of the time on the first three tips and then went very quickly to the last six tips. I was trying to think about policy in terms of what is your mission, what is the full problem we’re trying to address, we’re trying to do some big picture stuff, what does it mean to be client centered in policy making instead of just making the policies fit with what we need, what does it mean to make it fit with client’s needs. We talked about a lot of the diverse needs of people, very different people come into the centers and what does it mean to match up our policies with their diverse needs, what does it mean to get ownership and buy into the policies of our board, of our staff and even of the people using our centers and collaborating agencies. We talked about anticipating addressing harmful and unintended consequences in this process and to make the assumptions and to make visible and transparent in our policy making, why it is that we’re doing this, what are we assuming by doing this so people understand when they read our policies the thinking behind it, and then a very big thing is the difference between a policy and method of carrying out that policy. So policies are a big directive by board of directors and policy makers. Two people carrying out things and then the administrators say now this is how you carry out what the board wanted us to do, so this distinction between your policy making and procedure making, and finally we talked about implementing, building in accountability and evaluation plans and implementing policies. All three of us would have some criticism of some aspects of these policies that we’re going to be looking at but they are good examples of typical policies. If you were able to follow some of these guiding principles that we’re giving you about doing policy-making it would produce a very nice set of policies in the end.
We’re going to start out talking about the architecture of a good policy, so in other words we’re going to take some of these principles we talked about last time and these tips and we’re going to say now you’re ready to write a policy and that written policy should follow a certain format and then we’re going to look at some of these samples ones, we’ll give you some rules about writing policy, we’ll look at some of the samples and then we’ll talk a little bit of how that might be improved a bit. So Jane is going to start out by just talking a little bit about the architecture of a good policy
Jane: We are trying to set out a structure here that will help us all figure out how we put together policies that articulate our mission, articulate our purpose, layout, what is expected of our organization in relation to the people we serve, and to do that in a way that’s as clear and concise as possible. In many respects we’re trying to keep a lot of this in mind all at the same time while we’re putting things together. So we’re always going to be thinking about things like definitions, and time frames, and how this fits the people we’re working with, and aspects of accountability and standards and depending on the exact policy we might have a lot of that articulated or it’s going to be kind of in the background behind our thinking about the policy. So again, keeping in mind this guide for thinking about policy development so it’s not a literal listing of sections and it represents the work of creating the policy.
So the first thing we have is the framework. Opening with a statement of the policy that’s clear, precise, it lays out the scope, sometimes you might have a link to some documentation or references for example if you’re writing a policy area that’s required by state law then there’s going to be a piece of that, that’s most likely going to reference pretty early on what that law would be. Sometimes you’re going to have that, sometimes you won’t. So that first point that we’ve got laid out here is that when you get to the point of writing the policy you want to aim for being clear, being precise, and laying out the scope under which this is going to apply. And with that I’m going to slide us over to Mo who’s going to pick up on the second element.
Mo: Thank you, Jane. Some of what I’m going to be talking about is linked directly to what Jane is talking about and it takes it a little bit further. One thing that I’ll do when I’m looking at the kinds of policies that we’re trying to write, maybe it’s for personnel or whatever is to actually look at it and see if it is clear. Why it is that we’re doing that? so often we’ll see a rule but have no idea why it’s there. That just states the importance of actually articulating the policies intent of the goals. One of the places that really does outline to you what the board actually believes is the truth or the policy maker believes it’s the truth and why the policy is being written. It is also important that the policies we do actually link back to the organizations mission and role and in this case I don’t really have some of the organizations mission and role but what I do have are the guiding principles and as we said in the guiding principles is that we covered last week is the first one that safe havens visitation centers should operate in such a way that it accounts for the safety of both child and the adult victim and that, that safety is treated with equal regard. I think those are really good examples of ways in which if you look at the policy you can see what it is the policy is trying to do. Another thing that’s really important in articulating the policies intentions and goals is to be able to state the exceptions when this policy should not apply.
Jane: I think it gets really tricky to try to write every possible exception into a policy, so part of the challenge is can we write and articulate our policy our mission and our principles in such a way that, provides an anchor and we allow for a certain amount of discretion and meeting that. Now that’s not very precise but the main thing that popped in to my head was that when you start writing specific exception that gets tricky.
Beth: The other thing that I think is helpful when you start exploring the exceptions are allowed before you put this policy in place is that it also challenges you to really think through, is this actually a policy that we want to place or do we have too many exceptions? But I think sometimes when you’re writing a policy you make an assumption of how this is going to be and you write it to that and then you have what if, what if, what if, and if you have a lot of those you may want to challenge how you frame the policy in the first place and why you have it that way.
Mo: And if you have to earlier articulate reason you have the policy you have something to check all of those exceptions against.
Ellen: When you articulate a reason that you have the policy it should be in just plain old language and what’s missing in all these policies is the plain old language that visitation centers generally are trying to limit the contact between the adults. They are trying to set up the design for this visitation center where the two adults will not have any contact with each other. Because that is a main way they are going to try to do safety so that there’s no contact between the two and in particular they’re trying to make sure that the person, if they know who the aggressor is in the relationship does not have the opportunity to use a method of harassment, verbal or physical abuse. These don’t say that in there but that’s exactly what the intent of the policy is, it goes right from this vague statement of we want to make safety so we’re going to have two different entrances. You know why we are having two different entrances; if you make it clear we’re trying to make sure these adults do not see each other. We’re in particular trying to make sure that if someone has been battering someone else that they don’t have an opportunity to get to that person because she or he is having to come to the center every week, so by making that invisible these policies become vague to people who aren’t in the everyday language of visitation centers. All of us listening on the phone know this it’s real clear to us to try to keep him and her away from each other but it’s never in these policies, so I think that the other thing is what’s the plain old language that you would say to them, why are you doing that? Why are you doing that? And once you can answer that final language that should be what’s in your policy, would you agree with that Mo?
Mo: I would agree with that and I think that it’s not just important that we can use our articulated statements when we write the policies to make sure that we are creating the policies that we want but we want them to be apparent to the people who are using these services.
Ellen: And for that comes to the same thing about for example of children refusing to visit. Children refuse to visit for a lot of reasons. And the policy here is not the problem. But it’s the articulation of what is it that you’re trying to accomplish? Is it client-centered? Which is our next thing, how do make your policy client-centered? And so I just want to read you a go to sample one now on drug policy – Many of the people who use your visitation centers are alcoholic and drug addicted that’s why they are at your center that’s a major reason they’re at your center. They are at your center because they use violence and they are at your center often times because of drug and alcohol these two things come together and a lot of people live in ways that are very destructive to their life so what they want is a person to have their relationships with their children. So drug and alcohol abuse is a major disrupted piece of many people’s lives and they come to your center addicted people, people who are suffering because of this addiction that they have. Now read sample one - Alcohol and drugs is not permitted at the center any clients, staff or volunteers under the influence of alcohol and drugs may be asked to leave the facility, I don’t know which one aren’t going to be asked, but if a client is under the influence of drugs or alcohol the staff will decide if further services will be terminated, local law enforcement may also be notified this is the only language in this policy about alcohol and drugs now if I’m an alcoholic or drug addicted person using the center and I read this it says “You show up here on drugs or alcohol and we’ll decide if we’re going to give you further services local law enforcement may be notified it’s not very client-friendly or alcoholic friendly and that’s not to say that alcohol is good we know that you have a problem if you come in drunk and we’ll see if we can handle you. What I am suggesting is almost not punitive but it’s real authoritarian in language not what I would call client-friendly and not very drug-addicted client-friendly. Think of a mother of four kids whose lost custody of her children to a batterer because she’s an alcoholic, she obviously is suffering a lot because of all those loses and she can’t and she’s not able at this point in her life to stop drinking how should it be written to her? Because you’re writing this to the alcoholic to the drug addicted person so think of that what’s a way of saying this is going to give the staff to have full compassion for her but clarity on how ever you’re coming down on this issue drug and alcohol center.
The next one I just want to say is a similar thing we believe that being under the influence of drugs and alcohol causes everyone’s safety to be at risk. That’s an underlined assumption of this policy but if you look at it from the client’s perspective it’s not true that people who are under the influence of drug and alcohol are dangerous always to their kids it’s true that alcohol and drug use there is a high correlation between violence and alcohol and drug use, it’s true that visitation centers don’t really know which alcohol and drug dependent people when they’re using or even non-dependent people when they’re using become dangerous now that might be true. We can’t tell who’s dangerous and who isn’t and so we have this general rule saying no drugs or alcohol. But it’s not true that just the use of drugs or alcohol make someone dangerous to children because there’s many, many alcoholics out there that are raising their kids every day and never abuse them. So we have to challenge ourselves about some of these statements to make them come from a position of how you apply this to people’s lives is always true is it sometimes true but what is true? Is it visitations and I don’t want to be in a position of having to decide is this safe use of alcohol or not because you’ll get it wrong and so what you’re saying is because of the high correlation we’re just saying no alcohol or drugs on site so that’s a different way of saying it and it’s also a speak then of a broader experience instead of saying to every alcoholic person you are dangerous to everyone’s safety. Which isn’t really very true in fact it’s a major reason that someone is losing custody of their kids to batterers by saying “look she can’t be trusted, she’s an alcoholic, trust me the batterer, I’ll take custody of the kids.” So I think it’s important that we think about getting in the shoes of people who are reading these rules or policies about themselves and that’s one method of being client-centered. The other one is to try to figure out who does this exclude? I’m going to go back to the alcohol and drug policy and I want to apologize to somebody on the line last week who said they really wanted to you know they don’t agree with this thing that I’m going to say now about people who are chronic alcoholics using visitation centers and it’s a big debate and discussion so I don’t want to just cut that off what I’m going to say but this is a legitimate debate that we can all have. Which you have some people who are using your center who get up every morning and they if they don’t have a drink they’re going to start shaking and they are going to go into withdrawal so people get up and they have their they have what take whatever it is that they get to calm their bodies down they’re addicted to alcohol or drugs in ways that they can’t make it through a 24 hour period without going into withdrawal.
So what are you going to do with those people at your visitation center? Is it imaginable that you would say “If we have a policy that really says this that if you come in under drug and alcohol that we’re going to terminate your visit maybe even terminate your two visits?” Are we then excluding certain people from using our centers? Can a visitation center say to this parent, “you’re a chronic alcoholic, you drink every day, here’s going to be the rules for when you come in here. You can’t come in here drunk or what’s the word for when you’re not really in control of yourself because of the alcohol or drugs?” That doesn’t mean that if you’ve had a drink that morning that you can’t come and visit your kid at two’ clock so how would you work that out with the person who has a chronic alcohol problem? Would you feel that doing that and arranging with the other parent is actually allowing access that is part of visitation centers are trying to do they are allowing access to a parent who for one reason or another cannot live with that child. So I’m just going to stop with that now, say that being client-centered means are we going to make this rule or we going to look and say why would somebody not fit this rule and how can we make exceptions of that. So let’s go on to defining the policy components.
Jane: And that element is asking us to step back and really think about and be clear about saying what are we going to do? Who’s going to do it? Defining operative words and phrases we often use and put out there and to step back and say what do we mean by that exactly? Do we mean a very limited safety in a physical bodily sense? Do we mean safety in a broader kind of ongoing well-being kind of sense? What is our mission and our role and how are we defining safety in the work that we do? It’s looking at time frames, it’s looking at state laws that might come into play, thinking about the degree and nature of supervision, are there certain areas of discretion that are pretty open, are there other areas that really require supervisor to be involved in the discussion? So for example, perhaps part of shaping this policy around alcohol and drug use might be to look at where is the level of supervisory review. So if someone comes for a visit or exchange perhaps an exchange and visitation staff is concerned about, “is this a safe situation to send these children with this person who’s going to be driving in this car?” Perhaps that’s a setting under which there needs to be some real clear supervisory consultation and oversight as well. So it’s figuring out how that aspect of supervision is in everything. It’s looking at the responsibilities of those participating in the program, articulating what’s expected of parents coming to the center, how you are expecting them to meet those requirements or conditions, it’s looking at how can you adapt things to individual circumstances? How do we make it client-centered in the first place? And then how do we adapt this and provide some leeway to address those situations where if our goal is to support safety for adult and child victims of battering and other forms of domestic violence, how does this policy work into relation that and where do we need some adaptation to each individual’s circumstance So this overall design of how we put this together, how does it fit our mission and purpose making sure that we’re really articulating each piece of our policy and thinking about it. One of the things that I found when I was thinking about applying this defining the policies components, I started looking at “wow this is a bit of a jumble” it starts out with the statement “If a child or parent refuses to come to the center the center will notify the court and referring agency” well is that the policy? Is that the first sentence? Is that the heart of the policy? Or is the heart of the policy down at the very bottom where it says, on line 27 at no time will staff ever make or pressure a child to visit with the non-custodial parent when the child refuses. So step back and really look at what are we meaning here? What’s going to be done? And who will do it? I think with this example you could step back and apply the first elements of our architecture and see that it needs some work both in how it’s phrased how the intent is not articulated to what extent? And how it’s client-centered and then specific components in it so again your emphasizing that we’re not necessarily looking at these elements separate and distinct from one another or in a really sharp linear sequence but fitting together as this fabric of designing policy and, I think I’m showing something here about this is a really good example about the children visiting. Let’s say you were working at a visitation center and you were struggling with what I just said and then if you would try to explain to me we what are you trying to do and then that I think that’s when it’s really helpful what is it they’re trying to do by having a policy around children who don’t want to visit? What is your goal here what is your intent? So can you just answer that question for a second you’re a visitation center person?
Jane: Well my intent would be not to cause more harm or upset to kids.
Ellen: Are you trying to help them make this visit? Or what?
Jane: Well that’s where it gets a little bit more complicated.
Jane: See I pretty much want it to go smoothly because I know that this is going to cause some trouble perhaps for their mother whose having to bring kids to the center she’s trying to deal with all of their feelings about everything’s that happened and kind of all of the fallout that goes into that decision to separate, to leave, to try to make a different life that’s safer for herself and her kids and yes then we just say if I were to keep asking you questions to the point where you’re starting to say “well really what I want to do is, if it’s possible for the kids to make that visit without being harmful to them I’d like that to happen” or I’d like it to be t kids who are ambivalent have the chance to work through that ambivalence.
Ellen: The kids who aren’t ambivalent they’re not being pressured things like that. Once you can start to articulate that’s what we’re trying to do that’s when you can see these policies haven’t done enough amongst themselves to write the policy because they got these clear ideas in here of “Ok we’re going to take the child aside and speak to them” “Ok what about a short visit” so that they are obviously trying to make the visit happen but it’s not being articulated as what is it that you’re trying to do and then for that child and for like you’re bringing in what’s going to be helpful that the adult victim using this center the child saying I don’t want to visit can actually work against the adult victim.
So I think that’s the kind of the downhome conversation that you should have in your centers as soon as you start to write a policy say “what are we trying to do here?” and when somebody says something I’m trying to keep everybody safe what’s the assumption about what’s not making them not safe? Keep pushing, each other be like us we’re sitting there questioning you and then question each other about this and how you can really get a much clearer articulation of what you’re trying to do and then ask is centered-gotten people.
What Mo talked about last week the difference between policy and procedure like let me just say a policy would be that the visitation center is going to make every attempt to have no contact between the two adults and that’s the policy and they are going to design the center to do that the procedures are this double doors thing this you know somebody checks in first those are procedure those aren’t policies and if that the policy is this thing you’re trying to do and the board of directors is saying to you staff “don’t let these two people have contact with each other design the center that way” that becomes your policy then all these ways that you set up to do it becomes your procedures. You see a lot of mixing of procedures and policy in all of these samples, same thing about your overall policy what is to not pressure children into having visits they don’t want but accommodating and trying to pursue a safe visit for children with some ambivalence something like that is your policy. Procedures are these things that are written here.
Mo: I actually think the things that Ellen and Jane were talking about really are the key things. Once it’s clear that it would be very hard to draw up the larger imperative for this policy just by reading it. But once that conversation happens then the accountability element is easier then is clear what the purpose of the policy is so whenever there are policies specifically for the safe havens supervised visitation program and I would say more broadly when you’re dealing with the whole issue of domestic violence there are a series of accountability questions that you want to ask yourself and that is, is this policy accountable to adult and child victims of abuse? Is this policy accountable to the center’s own standards and principle and not just the policy but the policy and procedure? Is it accountable to the other organizations and other practitioners, is it fair and respectful to parents who are battered, and is it also dealing with the whole issue of accountability of the action of the batterer toward the people who have been harmed, so if you have a clear articulation of what it is that you’re trying to do around having a child refuse a policy you can literally go through and say what is our overarching reason for doing this and then how does that address the safety issues for victims of abuse? How does it deal with our own standards and principles and then I think the one that has to do with other organizations and practitioners is where things get a little muddy because people will say “well there’s a court order” so if there’s a court order then it must happen and I have a role in carrying out that court order well you know unless you’re a visitation center that’s directly tied to a court and you are actually part of that order that’s a different question and it’s worthy of a conversation and so that’s why no matter what it is that you do the most clear articulation of the policy and the procedure it has to come first so you know what the role of your visitation center the role of your service is as you go through this accountability sort of matrix I guess
So that’s sort of whole thing insuring that there’s an evaluative process to make sure that you are actually doing what it is that you say you want to do which means you got to say it clearly first.
Ellen: One thing I would say just for your own safety as a visitation center when you make a policy and someone doesn’t follow it and someone gets hurt you’re much more suable than if it’s not a policy.
Mo: That’s a procedure of that center right?
Ellen: No this is part of their policy.
Mo: Oh. Got it.
Ellen: So let’s say five minutes before the center opens the deputy says “Oh I can’t make it tonight, I’m sick or I just got in an accident on the way there” right and doesn’t show up. So the center is probably going to still function and go on if they don’t have the deputy there. Now let’s say that nobody gets warned that night and then that guy does something like simply like he pulls something out of his hand…he hits someone or a thing like that because you didn’t want them that night as part of your policy you’re now more susceptible to a lawsuit in a different way that wasn’t your policy. So I think it’s important to recognize when you say you’re going to these things if you’re not going to them every time no matter what don’t put them in as a policy because you make it so vulnerable to things what can you say as a policy is you will work with the Sheriff’s department to have security available for those families where it’s necessary that way if something happens you didn’t deem necessary that family has a security thing but you would have particular people you say you’re never going to arrange a visit with this person unless there is a security guard there. So you want to think in terms of when is always really always or your making yourself vulnerable. Sorry this isn’t right I put that in under accountability mode.
Mo: I’m glad you did Ellen that really was another point that I was going to bring out but it’s critically important that anybody who operates any sort of problem is very well aware of that. So I think ads that are even bringing that up is sort of naïve. That’s what I was going to say.
Ellen: Ok so then the last is this the last? No this isn’t the last . Got to make one more…double check the design so if you look at the notes here you’re basically got your policy written and you’re going back and you’re saying does this really fit our mission and our purpose. So if our mission and our purpose is what it’s to…It depends on what your mission and purpose is and we’ve talked about this last time that OVW is in some ways challenging visitation centers to have a more engaged role with families than they have in the past. They’ve expanded by the six principles the function of visitation centers and in doing so it kind of broadens the mission of visitation centers so if your mission is to really help some of these people through this two year period this period of transition to help them get through that without doing more harm then your policies should reflect a lot less often times authoritarian if you don’t do this you’re out and more of saying this is how we’re going to try to accomplish that mission. So you would find that those visitation centers policy actually look like the old rules of visitation centers you got to this and this and this or you’re out probably don’t fit your mission anymore. If your mission is going to expand to protect adult victims with equal regard to the whole notion of respect, multi-culturalism all of those kind of things that you build that into your mission you’ve got to you don’t want such a rule oriented policy anymore. So ask that question and then again really try to separate this thing out of what is it that the board is saying, staff I want you to do this, and what the board is basically saying, staff we don’t want the adults to have contact with each other to have access to hurting we want a center where we can keep these two apart that’s what the board says, it’s up to you staff to administrate procedures to figure out how you’re going to do that so check your policy again for that check to see what the underline assumptions are if you make a statement saying these val crone drugs is a safety issue yes it is but don’t make a statement that says val corn drugs are unsafe they in of themselves are not in certain bodies there are unsafe. So you want to keep challenging these assumptions that you make this universal statement that’s not to say you don’t get to make rules about alcohol and drug use and that’s not to say that this is not a correlation between danger, alcohol and drugs. But you want to keep pushing yourself to be precise and to make your assumptions transparent and to let people challenge you and say I don’t event thing that’s true. I think you’re making this statement but it’s not necessarily true. So blah blah blah you want to really have a feisty discussion about your underline assumptions. And then you’re limited in your resources you may want to do X but you can only do Y and I think you can say that. You would like to be able to do a full assessment of everyone coming in there and then offer this and this and this, but you can’t so because you can’t you’re eroding on the side of safety really asking every family to adhere to this policy. So you are unable to do the kind of specific work with every single family everyone in the whole system is that courts can’t do it you can’t do it, health workers can’t do it, we can’t absolutely address every particular need of every family so we’re often times because of limited resources force to do a more general practice but we should be able to articulate one that we’re doing that. And then finally your policies need to be think of when you look at the policies here they go back and forth to be written to the client and then next written to the staff person, policies are statements of the board. This is who we are and what we are this is what we will do this is what we expect of you the client. If you’re making a policy to staff you don’t necessarily talk to them the way some of these policies do let me give you an example. Line 35 remember we’re here to make this a positive experience for the child we want them to have fun and feel safe while they’re waiting for the visiting parent. You may also have to help the child if they’re having trouble separating from the parent that’s policy language to a staff person that’s kind of almost training language so you want to think who you’re going to be talking and what language are we doing that sometimes it’s the board saying here this is what we are committed to giving you sometimes it’s to the staff saying this staff will and sometimes it’s to the client saying the expectation of the clients is so you’re kind of dividing out who that audience is and that’s just kind of check as you through at the end and finally you always want to check to see if you build in to your policy the proper compliance and accountability issues and part of that is the policy should say that the staff would have the training to do X, Y and Z. Then if the staff are properly trained and they don’t do a good thing then the client gets to say look you are supposed to have your staff trained to this kind of staff but they weren’t and they weren’t able to do their job and that’s a fair expectation that clients should have of your center that the staff are properly trained. Ok Jane you’re on the last tip.
Beth: Before you go we’re going to ask questions as soon as Jane gives a couple of points on this last element. So push number one now for there is a little bit of a delay so you may be cut off of questions if you don’t get ready.
Jane: Ok, our last design element is to provide implementation guidelines and part of that we mention a bit a… we’ll kind of wrap up with this piece about communicating the policy to everyone involved. That there are different audiences for the policy and how that’s communicated is an important piece of the overall architecture of the policy. A second point is to establish operating procedures and again we kind of talked about this jumble of what’s a policy, what’s a procedure, generally that policy is something that isn’t readily changed you think of the way a board comes together to develop policy it’s not something that’s going to change from one month to the next it requires a certain level of attention and work and lays out the what must be done. The procedures are how you’re going to go about doing that and that becomes more of an administrative function that has some leeway to change to adapt to different circumstances. So along with the policy articulating this is what we expect and this how our agency will operate and this is what must be done come that set of how we’re going to do it, the forms, the instructions, the documentation, the training to make it real. Another element in that is to provide workers with a examples of the policy in action so as you’re putting all this together how do you really see this working? I think training is really intertwine with policy particularly it’s something new the first time it’s a new area of attention brand new visitation center no one has done this before or brand new policy area there has to be a way for the workers who are expected to implement it to get familiar with it to see it in action, to practice, to maybe use different simulations or scenarios to get a feel for it and you wouldn’t necessarily do this with every single policy but kind of take a look at where do we want to really build this kind of cavalierly in practice something for example like around children who are reluctant to visit as a policy area it’s a big one that’s a real sticky point or a lot of folks in visitation centers the policy is going to have more meaning if it’s implemented with some element of training and practice along with it. Providing this implementation guide lines doesn’t mean clunking down a policy in front of and this is one of Jane’s pet-peeves setting it down in front of a worker and saying here sign on the bottom line saying I have read and agreed to follow all of these policies that’s not really providing examples of policies and action and making it real it’s a covering your butt kind of approach but not really carrying policy into practice in a real way. So I think we’re overdue for questions aren’t we Beth?
Beth: We are so Stephanie do we have any people in the question cue? If you have a question push one, anybody waiting patiently?
Stephanie: Yes we do have a caller Diana your line is open?
Diana: Hi, would it make more sense to for instance like for the alcohol and drug policy implementation to just put it down as guidelines? Because again I don’t if in any way to write something like that to account for you know everybody’s needs but if it’s a guideline then it’s easier to write and then people can use it in their own expertise and judgment doesn’t that you know and I don’t mean judgment over people you know what I’m saying over the situation doesn’t that make more sense or does everything have to be a policy?
Ellen: I was talking away and found myself on mute. I think you’re right that one of the things that you want to say is does this require policy? Does this require a procedure? Or does this require guidelines? And sometimes it requires all three and sometimes it only requires guidelines with procedures. Basically if you think about in terms of does your board of directors or the people that have control of your organization do they want to design a policy that says as an organization this is what we’ll do, to menusha to do that than they can put that aside and have it be a procedure guideline but generally speaking you want your authoritative group to say we’re going to give directions so that this kind of carries out this way. I would say that most visitation centers will want to have a drug and alcohol policy, if nothing else will have one on their staff that staff cannot use it, that they’ll probably want to have something like a drug and alcohol policy but in some may go with a guideline on this but not a policy but that’s truly up to the individual organization of what kinds of issue do they want to be directed about as a board.
Diana: Ok, thank you.
Beth: Stephanie do we have any more questions?
Stephanie: At this time there are no additional questions.
Beth: Alright so don’t be shy we’re going to go ahead and carry on but it doesn’t mean you can’t push number one and we’ll gather up your questions hopefully before the end of the call. Ok, so Mo you’re going to us away on our final push here and we’re going to talk about adapting our policies to different readers and different audiences.
Mo: I think both Ellen and Jane have spoken a bit to this issue sort of throughout the last hour so I don’t want really be lever the point too much but as Ellen stated that we’re going to be really needing to address a variety of different audiences so the board as the policy making body as an audience to the visitation center organization the policies coming from the board are much more formal and they are overarching and I can really state this enough and more than twenty years of working with non-profits I think the importance of stopping and crafting out the accompanying rational and the explanations for these policies is critically important. They’ve got more than anything else will help you figure out what are the policies, what is the procedure, what’s a guideline, what’s really about training? If I leave you with no other thought I would leave you with the importance of going through this process as your board of directors is doing its doing its policy making work. Doing it in such a way that’s directly in fom by the experiences of the people who are actually using the services of the center and the people who are providing the services to the center. In so doing, in the crafting of these overarching policies and in ensuring that the accompanying rational are there it built sort of a long term institutional memory as to why this is the direction this organization is on you may have an executive director that has been there for 20 years but you probably won’t have a board member who’s been part of this for all those 20 years so that also provides real solid guidance to your board of directors as to what the intent of the service that you’re providing is how they can step in and be a resource because as many of you know some of the folks on your board of directors are never going to have provided a visitation service they may have never even entered into a court house but they are interested in the service you’re providing so this is actually a training tool for them and understanding sort of long term goals of the work that you do so that’s just a couple of my parting tips for working with board members and the role of the board in developing policies for your visitation center.
Jane: Ok, I will address our second import in the audience which are the visitation centers clients and that is the women, the men, the children, using the center need to understand what all the particular policies are that are relevant to their participation and again I think here too to really think about structuring this in a way that’s not plunking down ten sheets of paper and saying here sign this and we agreed to do this but building meaningful ways to explain what the purpose is, what the mission, the expectations are, and accounting for help people understand that literacy level, first languages, multiple ways of conveying the meaning of the policies and the expectations to those who are using the center and also providing an avenue to say and here’s what you can do when you feel that this policy is not being followed and this program and this action or something has happened that is not in sync with what we have said we will do and how we will do it, so, bringing all those things together. Part of my background is in policing and I’m always really intrigued to see when policy agencies post all of their policies on the website because I think that’s an example of providing your policy in a very big way to your clients mainly, people who live in your community and there is a certain level of accountability in putting it out there in that way where you can readily discover what’s the expectation, what’s the promise if you will of this organization to me as a resident of the community. So be thinking about how do you convey the promise of your visitation center to the people who are using it.
Ellen: Ok, I’m in charge of talking about a little bit about writing your policies for workers and I want to tell people about one of my favorite little policy is the St. Louis County Sheriff’s office, domestic violence handbook and training guide for patrol deputies and it’s on the Praxis website, it’s the St. Louis county sheriff’s office handbook and training guide for deputies and when you open up this little booklet, to me it’s exactly how you should write a policy to your workers, the people of the center because in gray boxes the whole policy going through this whole booklet and it will give a policy like here’s one of the policies, “Deputies responding to domestic assault related calls will conduct a thorough, initialing investigation in accordance with state law and office policy that you would complete a report whenever they response to any domestic assault call regardless if they’d identify probable cause. Officers will utilize either the short or long form domestic violence report in writing these reports and then it goes on for four pages to show the short report format and why it’s there the long report format why everything is on it and then it gives a sample good long report and a sample of a good short report. Then it goes on to the next thing in the policy, so this is a really nice handbook and it takes them to every policy regarding responding to a call and then it tells them why they’re doing it and then it shows how to do it all the protocols and then it actually gives samples and suggested ways of doing it. This little handbook I think if you got a hold of it you can download it off the Praxis website you could just follow a format like this to do your handbook for employees and it’s a very nice nifty neat little thing and OVW will love you.
Beth: I’ll send it out to everyone who registered for the call.
Ellen: There’s some nice distinction too between policy and procedure I think.
Mo: Can I just say Ellen and Jane and if you don’t mind my jumping in if you will look at line 69-91 you’re going to see a mix of audiences that this particular policy which is very procedural is trying to address I think it’s a very good example of when you’re speaking to a worker when you’re speaking to a parent, when you’re speaking to somebody else, so I think it’s a really good example of an opportunity for tailoring the language based on the different audiences.
Ellen: And then Mo if I can just say as long as people are looking at 69-91, line 91 the very last line on your handout if either parent is 15 late the visitation is cancelled. You know if somebody calls up and says Oh my God my car just slid of the road I’m in the ditch, I’ll be there in 22 minutes you’re not going to cancel the call so you never write a policy that isn’t as fact like that but it isn’t really fact but it is the center reserve the right to cancel visits if a parent is 15 minutes late that is a fact that you reserve the right to cancel it and you will typically but you’re not going to cancel every time so just keep looking at all those things that you’re saying and when you really mean it and when you don’t. Any other questions that people have or will you press star one?
Beth: Just one, if you push one.
Ellen: Somebody out there has something to say even if you want to say something like Oh come on you guys you really didn’t mean to say this did you.
Beth: Do we have anybody who is willing to challenge us?
Operator: There are no guests in the cue.
Jane: They’re afraid of you.
Beth: I did get an email question, a couple of questions actually of the same question. When is this recording going to be available? I’ve had that question in my inbox three times during this call, I don’t know if people doze off and want to catch up or I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m going to take this as this is so good I want to listen to it again.
Ellen: Will it be on YouTube?
Beth: It will be on YouTube that’s correct, no, we will post it at the completion of this series and usually by the time we gather that up, edit, and if anything that needs to go, so you can anticipate that probably three weeks past next Tuesday for the final call you can start looking for it.
Ellen: Just to add to ask people to take the time to fill out the evaluation that Beth is it, they have it now? Because it’s very helpful that we read the ones from last time and you could see we pace ourselves better and we actually listen to things you were saying but it’s really helpful to us to see how this is or is not working for you and next time it’s our last one on this topic so anything we are not addressing or questions you have about this that you feel better asking in an email format if you can do that and fill out that surveys it’s really helpful to us.
Beth: They will receive it after today’s call from their email and it takes five minutes really to fill that out so we do encourage you to do that. I’d like to take this last couple of minutes to say thank you to Mo, Ellen and Jane for taking the time to do this with us. I’d like to say thank you to all of you who take time out of your day to stop and think about policy development.
Operator: Excuse me Beth I do apologize we do have to guest in the cue at this time.
Beth: Oh very good, OK brave ones.
Operator: Ok first we do have Barbara your line is open.
Barbara: This is Barb Samper and I’m calling and I really enjoyed this training series so far it’s really been good and it’s really made me stop and think about the differences about policies and procedures but I have questions and I’m not sure I’m asking it right I guess if your court has guidelines that they order into the order for the visitation supervised visitation or if you know that there is a history of denying access the court knows that there’s a history of denying access to a parent and you’re trying to do that I guess I’m thinking about should how do we take into consideration do we make that policy incorporate the guidelines of the court in my case I would have to because I’m local government funded mostly but that’s what I’m thinking about because when I’m thinking about all of this things like I didn’t like the ones about the child refusal policy…
Jane: You would like to have something in your policy that when you say that your idea is to kind of give access whenever you can but not to pressure a child?
Jane: Now that can be a policy but then in your procedures you can say the staff should consider if there’s been a history of one parent refusing to let a child visit when determining to what expense to talk to a child about this, see what I mean?
Barb: Yes, ok.
Jane: You get to that in a procedure that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone but your policy is to try to facilitate access without pressuring a child.
Barb: Ok, so you could really address the denial of access in your procedures?
Jane: Yeah because you’re interested in those cases which are not meant assignment they have maybe a small number of cases but important ones where denying access has been a major issue in that family so it’s one thing that staff should consider and making a determination about speaking to the children.
Barb: Right and I bring this up because this is a difficult thing for especially for us right now because we’re kind of seeing a trend of batterers getting custody if their children and it’s a concern because sometimes the victim doesn’t always cooperate for a multitude of reasons, out of fear or a lot of reasons why she doesn’t always cooperate and so you know I’m trying to work in our advocate but also supervise visitation trying to work with this person trying to get them to understand the importance of not denying access for that reason because I see when that happens sometimes the court turns around and says oh well then will just give the other person custody. That’s why I don’t want a policy that says exactly I kind of want to leave it broad.
Ellen: That’s exactly the kind of thinking you want to do so that then who do you articulate to someone this is what I want my policy to say and then challenge it like that and then you’ll get this policy that says we want to facilitate access whenever possible we don’t want to force children to visit a parent or put pressure on a child and that probably you could do that and still be more interventionist on those places where you think the parent is actually causing the child to say I don’t want to go.
Barb: Ok, thank you.
Beth: Do we have one more question?
Operator: Yes, next we have Cecilia your line is open.
Cecilia: Hi, my name is Roslyn I’m here with Cecilia but we were here thinking and reading over the guiding principles and the section that talks about the role of the visitation center and along the lines of trying to create policy it’s talk a lot about holding the batterer accountable could you give us some examples of what that should look like?
Ellen: It says that in the guiding principles?
Mo: Yeah page seven?
Ellen: Go Mo.
Mo: The whole issue of holding batterers accountable for the violence and abuse during visitation and exchange and accounting for the battering that’s already occurred. When we were working on the guiding principles that got a lot of conversation because it was a part that was needed to be vested from a stand point of how to provide visitation services. So among the things that actually Beth you I may want you to jump in because you’ve done a lot more in practice and a lot of the things that I would be talking about are more from a policy making stand point…did I get your question right did you want to know more on what are some practice considerations around this or what are some of the things that would be written into policies around this?
Cecilia: Kind of both, we were just kind of stomped on how do we do that, just some suggestions and ideas about…
Ellen: Can I say one thing here Mo about it’s the responsibility of the criminal justice system to hold batterers accountable for what they’ve done to victims, it’s not the medical profession’s responsibility or even in a sense visitation centers it is your responsibility to hold them accountable as clients for stuff they are doing in your center as oppose to hold them accountable as you battered her in the past and we’re going to hold you accountable to that, what you’re holding them accountable is to present acts of and continuation of that battering using you and your center, would that be right Mo?
Ellen: So when he’s start to do things like he’s got custody of the kids he will not bend one inch on anything when she wants to change a day in visiting because her work has changed he says no – the court says Tuesday the court means to Tuesday she will have to go back to court. He’s in a sense harassing her to that, holding him accountable is you can make her go back to court but it will be better if you work this out with us because you’re being uncooperative and stuff like that, that’s holding him accountable and not letting him I mean he might get away with it but she’s going to have to go back to court but you can try to work with him and say why do you want to do this here? She’s working on that day she can’t make it that day blah blah blah. So you’re kind of not just letting him ride rough shot over her in that visitation center.
Cecilia: Ok, thank you.
Mo: Really quickly, I think with some of the compliance issues being aware I think the guiding principles the larger document does really kind of speak to some of the ways which batterers will continue the abuse throughout visitation and exchange and really kind of speaks to ways that you can sort of look at things like compliance with an understanding of what battering is and understanding of how batterers may be using the visitation center to sort of continue the abuse.
Ellen: An example I can give is a case where a young girl had really long hair down to her waist and he had use visitation and exchange place it was his first exchange off site he took the girl and had her hair cut really, really short and never talked to the mother about it and it was a total messing with her and the kid didn’t want that so the visitation center did a good job of writing that up as they and he said look I’m the father I have my rights too but the visitation center wrote it up in a way kind of held him accountable to that in saying this is not acceptable of you’re going to do a major thing like this on a visit you should let us know and it should be a discussion. Some of these things are times when you can see that he’s messing with her and using the child to mess with her, to punish her or retaliate for leaving him or whatever and you actually are there watching him use the child do that so it was written up in a sense in that way.
Beth: Ok, so I want to thank everyone for hanging on the line with us for a few extra minutes here. To remind people we will have the third part of our call next Tuesday at the same phone number at the same time and materials will be emailed to you and your evaluation will be emailed to you shortly, so thanks everybody have a great day, thank you Mo, Jane and Ellen again. We’ll catch you next week have a good day everybody.