Beth: Hello and welcome to today’s audio conference training on crafting visitation policies that account for battering offered by the Office on Violence Against Women in partnership with Praxis International my name is Beth McNamara and I will be your host for today’s call. So thank you for those of you who’ve joined. We are concluding our three part series today. So we have a full agenda today, we have Jane Sadusky and Ellen Pence joining our call today, this is the third part of fatal flaws and remedies in writing domestic violence related policies. Ellen is the executive director of Praxis International and Jane is a consultant with Praxis and has done an incredible amount of work over the past two years they both have with the supervised visitation grant program.

Ellen: Ok thank you very much Beth. One of the things that we always want to say is that this whole series is brought to you the technical assistance program from the Office on Violence Against Women, they approved the agenda but this is not OVW talking this is Praxis talking and sometimes especially in this whole area of policy making you really have to make sure that you’re working with your policies if you’re drafting new policies that you’re working with your program managers so that you’re really making sure that you’re being consistent with the OVW guidelines in making your policies. So OVW approves us doing this and they approve this agenda but not everything we say. Also I would like to say that the first time we kind of went through the nine tips of policy making were pretty broad and we got a lot of feedback from that one that we had spent so much time on the first three and we rushed through the last six so they wanted us to be more paced and we did so then the last one we paced ourselves right through the agenda which was the architecture of a good policy which was really about writing them.

Today what we’re going to talk about is some of the fatal flaws in writing policies. We just sent out a few little sample policies and we didn’t sent them out as sample good policies we just send them out as samples of policies so that we could make note of some of the flaws that we’re talking about. We found flaws in every one of these policies that match our what we call the fatal flaws of policy making. So we’re going to start off with the first flaw of policy making is when your policy lumps everything together as domestic violence and doesn’t recognize that domestic violence isn’t all the same thing and Jane is going to start us off with that one.

Jane: Ok thanks Ellen and thanks to everyone who is listening in on the call today. The fatal flaw one is not distinguishing among different types of levels of domestic violence. I think this is one of the biggest discussions that’s swirling out there as we realized over the last 30 years or so of all of the attention and reform work around domestic violence we kind of ended up lumping everything into that one big bucket and labeling it domestic violence. When what we lose sight of is this distinctions between battering, coercive control that ongoing pattern of intimidation and coercion, and threats which I think is a lot of what we all carry around in our heads. We’re really talking about battering with that specific contempt to control and dominate our partner that’s carried out through this combination of ongoing physical, sexual, emotional attacks and has this aspect of coercion into it. So that gets thrown in the bucket. Then the reaction to that gets thrown in the bucket, so if I’m trying to stand up for myself, if I’m trying to defend myself, retaliate for what’s been done to me by a battering partner, protect someone, my children, another family member, resist and push back against that coercion. Well all that gets thrown into the big bucket too. Those situations for example where a brain injury or trauma can produce a change in behavior and violence against a partner or their family members. So we’ve thrown everything into the big bucket and that means then that we lose sight of that principle that’s guiding our work under the visitation program which is equal regard for safety of children and adult victims. So throwing everything in there then is not very helpful in really aiming our response to build that protection and safety for adult victims and their children. So looking at our sample policies for example, the center was first and foremost designed to provide safety to adult and child survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and child abuse. It’s the language that’s been used in the visitation program but it’s also kind of throwing everything in there and part of our responsibility then in writing our policy and avoiding these fatal flaws is to really be clear about the wide range of violence that’s included in that term domestic violence and in particular to distinguish among battering, resistive violence, non-battering violence, and realizing that it is a big discussion and it relates back to what we were talking about those nine tips and the architecture of a good policy it relates back being really clear about how we’re defining our mission and our role in this intervention so part of the remedy is defining terms, being clear about what we mean when we say domestic violence and making that distinction.

Ellen: You get a lot of women who are visiting in the visitation center who use some violence and they’ve lost custody of their kids, a combination of maybe she got arrested one night and then he’s filed a protection order and now she’s out of the house and she’s visiting the kids in the center but he’s the one that’s been battering her. That would be a typical I think in some centers as many as 40 percent of women are visiting their children in the center and most of those women are battered by men.

Jane: Right and if you’re not taking time to make the distinction and understand what you’re meaning you’re going to miss that and being able to craft policies that account for that safety. I think one factor in this is whenever you start being absolute. Policies that set these very strict arriving departing 15 minute and shaping things around the time that someone is there rather than around a policy with a purpose of preventing parents from having contact with each other which is related to that understanding of domestic violence and taking time to articulate things and ask questions from that point of view.

Ellen: Part of you policy and Jane’s talking about in writing your policy it would be great if you can tell the difference between a batterer, someone who is reacting to battering and someone who is using domestic violence but neither of those things are going on. The only way that’s going to happen is if your collaborative is set up to let you know some of that. So this would be for some of you an impossible task if all you get is a referral and two people show up at your door telling you stories. You can maybe get into it what’s going on but you can’t, really none of us can totally know any of this but the way you would really know is that if you had access to information. In trying to make available to people who intervene in these cases, batterers treatment people, visitation centers and others this criminal court information is very important in letting us know who is doing what to whom and what impact. It’s important for us to think of how are we using this collaborative to let us figure out which type of violence are we dealing with at our center. And this is a new talk in the domestic violence field. We’re not quite where we need to be in terms of giving visitation centers the information they need.

Jane: Right and taking all of these points and discussions thinking of them as the warp and the wasp if we’re collectively weaving this fabric of safety there’s a lot of things that go into that and you’re right not expecting visitation centers have the information they need or can go it alone.

Ellen: The family court who is mostly who you’re dealing with would be doing this assessment as part of a routine assessment of where the kids are going to live and how much access they’re going to have with the other parent. Ok flaw two is this one where policies used categories that lump similar situations, people or, events into one group and so I think this was one that everybody knows about when we use the term custodial parent and non-custodial parent there’s obviously half the people using your visitation center are custodial and the other half are non-custodial parents so it’s a natural device but once you divide people that way you can’t necessarily see that all the non-custodial parents are the ones that potentially cause harm to the other and this is where the lumping together is a problem. It’s not so bad that you make the division and lump them together it’s what you tribute to that group of people. So visitation centers for a long time have said, OK we’re going to have the custodial parent the ones that are attached with the children and the non-custodial parents so we’re going to set it up the assumption meaning the non-custodial parent is the problem parent more and that their probably more dangerous. So we’re going to have them come to the visitation center first and make sure they can’t hassle the non-custodial parent as they’re coming in to the center so let’s get them in here and get them seated and once they’re here the non-custodial parent can safely come in. What happens when the custodial is in fact the dangerous one the one that is doing harm and battering the non-custodial now you’ve got the custodial parent able to be outside the building or wherever to see exactly what time this person is coming and to be there unsupervised so the idea of separate entrances and staggered times was to prevent contact but mostly it was to protect one parent from the other. As we know in many centers up to 30-40 percent of battered women are the non-custodial parent and therefore the way we’ve set it up is to assume that they’re the ones that need to be protected against instead of protected. So that’s the most obvious lumping together I want to give a couple in this sample ones here of lumping together similar things. What you want to basically say is every single time you use a category of any kind ask what have we brought together into this category and what assumptions are we making about it. So children who refuse to visit is a category in many of your policies so let’s go to children refusing to visit. If a child of a parent refuses to come to the center that’s one visit refusal and the second one is if they’re already at the center and they decide not to. If the child arrives at the center and is saying that he or she does not want to visit the non-custodial parent we will have lumped together all of these children who don’t want to visit and you’ve said we’re going to do four things with them even though the reason those kids don’t want to visit can be really different. A lot of things can be different about that but you’ve said no matter what those differences of this is what we’re going to do if age appropriate we’re going to take a side him or her in private we’re going to ask they’d like to shorten the visit for 10 or 15 minutes we’re going to ask if they just want to say hello, we’re going to ask if they’d like to write a letter or draw a picture to the parent, so basically what these four items are doing is saying is there some minimal contact we can create between the parent and the child, the child does not want to go into the full visit so just some minimal contact and here’s our four ways of getting that minimal contact and maybe if they start one little thing it would allow the whole visit to happen so maybe they say ok I’ll go for 10 minutes maybe the whole visit will happen. So these four things are presuming some universal kind of condition amongst these children that don’t want to visit. So now let’s stop and go back and say that there’s a whole lot of reasons kids don’t want to visit, right? They don’t want because they’re scared, they don’t want to visit because they’re mad at the parent, they don’t want to visit because they feel a loyalty to the other parent, they don’t want to visit for many reasons. Would you say that these four things that you will do really cover those four reasons well. I can imagine situations when these four things are not really the things that you want to do if the child doesn’t want to visit and so you have a situation then where this policy is lumping together a group of dissimilar children as one group and then having four things you’re going to do regardless of why those kids are in that group. So you just want to keep saying did we do this here, did we do this here, did we mean non-custodial parent is that who we’re trying to say comes first or are we trying to say the parent needing protection, who is that we want to come first or second, who are these children in this group, and how can we distinguish that? Let’s stop there on that one; I want to bring in another situation here.

The category is the category of alcohol and drugs equaling danger. We have another term saying if people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and I’m going to talk about that a little bit later when we talk about the use of jargon or when we don’t define terms properly, Jane is going to talk about that next. In this notion of under the influence of alcohol and drugs is going to go in there but it’s also part of this notion of a category. The use of alcohol is what we’re talking about, so I want to give an example of a visitation center a while back and this guy drops his kids off there, three kids, every Sunday, and in the Winter he goes about a block and a half down the road and he watches football at the local bar and then he has a beer and he comes back an hour later and he’s had his beer and he’s watched his football game at the local bar and he picks up the kids. Staff can smell half the time that he’s had a beer and or two, whatever, he doesn’t look drunk but he’s now gone off to have a beer while waiting for the kids. What is the policy? How is it directed towards that person? So, the staff doesn’t do anything about because they don’t ever see him in that he appears drunk or that he can’t take care of the kids or anything like that. They wouldn’t call the police and say well I think this guy is drunk because they have no idea how much he’s consumed and he’s not acting like he’s drunk at all. So when you have a policy like this that says alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center I mean you can’t bring them in, the bottle or whatever, any clients, staff or volunteers under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be asked to leave the facility. Now what does under the influence of alcohol or drugs mean? If a client is under the influence of alcohol or drugs staff will decide if the services will be terminated. Local law enforcement may also be notified. So what’s the woman to say if she thinks you’ve got a policy like this and she knows that you know that he went down had a beer while the kids where there and came back and you didn’t do anything about this policy because what is the policy actually say? Is it saying alcohol and drugs are dangerous therefor any use of alcohol and drugs will be dangerous to the children? Because the next policy says that we believe being under the influence again that term of drugs and alcohol cause everyone’s safety to be at-risk. So what’s this center going to do when a guy comes back and he says he’s had his beer? What is it that people actually want to say here?

Let’s talk about the one if they don’t want to visit. The woman at the visitation center said to me you know just a lot of reasons that kids come to the center and once they get there they don’t want to visit their parents and I said OK what do you center want to do about that? And she said well we don’t want to pressure them or force them to visit the parent that’s her bottom line we don’t want to be forcing them or pressuring them if they really don’t want to. Ok, if that’s what’s going on and that’s what you’re saying then what is it that you’re trying to do there, what do you do to not force them but at the same time not to say OK bye kids if they decided not to visit today? They said well we try to figure out what’s going on with the child and if it’s something we can do to facilitate a visit without forcing them, OK, so you want to try to facilitate a visit is that what I’m hearing? Yes, ok so then what if you want too but the kid’s just still doesn’t want to, then we don’t want to push it. So then what would you do? Then they say we just write a letter to the court and say we couldn’t do it, ok, so end of conversation. So what she’s saying is this, I just wrote a policy that reflects what she was saying:

The center recognizes that for a myriad of reasons the child may arrive at the center and then not want to visit the non-custodial parent. Staff will not pressure or force the child to visit the parent. Staff will make attempt to determine why a child is reluctant to visit and whether or not the center can do something to allow the visit to occur. If a child remains unwilling to visit the visit will be reschedule and the staff will talk to both parents about a possible resolution.

I want to say why I ended there; so that’s very different policy than the one you see here whether telling the staff people here take the kids out first talk to them, then see if they want to go for the short visit, then do the hello because those are really specific and we talked about this last week those are way too specific of instructions to use in a policy. Instead the policy is trying to say what the center is doing. We know why there is a lot of reasons this happens, we’re not going to pressure them, if we don’t want to we’re going to try to figure what’s going on, we’ll try to facilitate a visit if that doesn’t work then we’ll do this. Now what are we going to do about it, this thing that you have in this policy. Policies should not get down to ask a kid if they’d like a visit shorten by 10 or 15 minutes, I mean you’re just not going to do that in a lot of cases. You don’t want to put in policy instructions to the staff on how to carry out their tasks. That belongs in a protocol or procedure and we talked about that last week. You see how policy is first lumping these similar things together and then treating them alike and then being too specific because they lumped things together. Where is the policy that I read to you stays general, we’re not going to force people to visit, we’ll just try to determine the nature of why the child doesn’t want to, see if we can facilitate a visit, if we can’t we’re going to re-schedule. Now what are we going to do? When the visitation center says we’re going to report it back to the court, that’s a real policy question which is beyond what we’re talking about right here but the questions I would have is, why are you going to report this back to the court? Who should the visitation center report to when a child refuses to visit? Should the write it up and give it to each parent? Why would the center automatically be sending back to the court unless they have an agreement with the parents, court, or the lawyers or somebody that they’re going to write reports of them and send them off when X, Y, or Z happens. This idea that you send it back to the court is also one that you question, that’s lumping together all sorts of reasons why the visits are going to stop and it’s that the outcome that automatically the visitation center always wants to do report it back to the courts. It maybe that you have an agreement with the courts, that, that’s what you’re going to do, a court referral. Remember these are two independent people using a visitation center in the middle of a court case usually, but many people are not in the middle of this court case. I don’t want to say it that way, what I want to say is that to lump together all these things that you should automatically refer this back to the court is perhaps a questionable practice. You should ask who would we send back to the court and why? Would be send the letter to both of their attorneys if they have them? Would we send the letter off to the parents and let them decide what they’re going to do about it? Do we really want to use that category? Do we really want to say given this, this is what you’re going to do? So the categories question of what did we just lump together? And what assumptions are we making about that? And is that driving action that we really want take every time this occurs? That’s your three questions. You’ll see it’s very helpful to ask those questions as you go along. I want to raise the issue of lumping together children who don’t want to visit, lumping together things like alcohol equals danger, lumping together custodial, non-custodial similar kinds groups of people, those are just three in our sample policies.

Jane: A couple that caught my eye were lumping together children and parents looking at refusing to visit, those could be very different. Throwing it all together there and then reporting all that to the court or in sample one clients, staff, or volunteers, then starting to mix them up policy related to the relationship between the center and parents who are using it with volunteers and staff.

Ellen: That’s a real problem, one look at the policy in sample one it says “Alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center” I think it should say that staff and volunteers can’t come under the influence but not in the same written policies you’re going to do it with clients who do it. It’s a whole different way you’re going to deal with staff and volunteers that come under the influence. Any clients, staff, or volunteers under the influence of alcohol and drugs may be asked to leave the facility. Maybe we ask the staff person to leave, what are you going to do if the staff person that tells you this policy what you’re going to do with the client? It doesn’t say what you’re going to do with the staff person and you don’t want to mix those two together. Have one policy around clients that come in and are under the influence, I don’t even like that term “under the influence,” but clients who come in who have been drinking or using drugs and their behavior then is influenced by it and when staff are probably using it at all. The restrictions of staff should be probably much more restrictive. Staff should not have used any drugs or alcohol before they come to a center and I think people in these two policies by using term under the influence I think they’re not saying they can’t have used but they can’t be exhibiting behavior that shows that they’ve used.

Jane: I’m going to move us on to flaw three. We’re starting to bump up against human time. I think flaw three the policy uses jargon and does not define the term used as Ellen mentioned two and three are really closely connected because it’s often the jargon that signals the category so when we get so familiar in our work world with certain terms NCP, CP, non-custodial parent, custodial parent, critical incident, facilitator, monitor, we get very comfortable with but again sometimes that can signal the category that we need to be taking a closer look at as well as looking at how does this relay the idea and what we’re trying to get at with this particular policy. One of the words that caught my ear when I was reading through this it’s on page two it’s sample number three, in talking about children will be transferred from the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent. That word transferred, what does that carry with it, this notion of property that’s moved from one place to the other. Is there another way of expressing this role that the center has in accompanying or escorting the child from one parent to the other and just reading critically with that is this a word that is going to be readily understood. How’s it going to be understood and is this something that’s signaling a category that we want to look more closely at. Same thing with using the building and staff as the means. Are we bringing kids in at one point in the building and taking them out to the end? How do we want to describe our role in making sure that there’s no parental contact and then making sure that children move from one place to another in a way that’s safe and comfortable to them?

Ellen: Basically the center is designed to make sure that there’s absolutely no contact between the adults at the center. They don’t have a chance to talk to each other, they don’t have a chance to see each other, that’s why you have stagger arrival times, that’s why you have separate doors, that’s why you have separate waiting rooms, etc. Nobody ever puts it in the policy; we’re designed to make sure there’s no contact between the parents, to do that we do the following. That then is really easy to picture, it’s hard for us because we’ve all seen these so much, we’ve talked about it so much, stagger arrival and different entrances and exits all those words jumble up and what are they saying. If you just say we’re going to make it so you two don’t get to see each other then all of those things fall into place for someone. So, that question are you just using straight forward language that gives the reader a picture of what you’re getting at.

Jane: One way too that you can help catch those is to have someone read this who’s not so steeped in it. Is there an advisory group of parents using the center or can you take this to a group of women who meet at the local shelter and say help us read through this, does this make sense? Are there terms that we don’t understand that you don’t understand, so thinking about who could be your critical readers as you develop policy is an important point.

Ellen: In this next one about being client-centered, there’s a couple of things, asking people to read this and see if it fits you, if the policy actually works for you. That’s the notion of having an advisory council, a group of women who have used either a visitation center or have had to arrange visits, etc. Even if they didn’t use a visitation center an advisory group like that can be really valuable for the visitation center. Having a group of clients who have used it, older children who are not using it anymore but used to, they can all give you really good feedback on these policies and what didn’t work. Both in terms of the policy itself and then in terms of how it’s written. I think the other thing about client-centered part, because we talked about this last time so we don’t need to talk so much about it, but the policy should read if we want to put in respect for people. It’s a big difference if you’re a person reading it. They’re basically trying to say the same thing you know what you don’t get to drink here and if you do things are going to happen. But sample one says alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center any client and staff under the influence will may be asked to leave the facility, if a client is under the influence of drugs or alcohol the staff will decide if further services be terminated, local law enforcement may also be notified, this is all kind of like threatening language the next one says we believe that being under the influence causes everyone’s safety to be at-risk so this is allowed to be in the visitation center expect to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and then you could put something in there that we reserve the rights to do the following things and list some of them. The visitation center is there to help people through a difficult time in life and it’s to recognize that these are difficult times that not very nice things are going on and we’re here to help people get through this without hurting each other and if that’s the tone of what you’re thinking that tone should come out in a way these things are written, so your policies can say almost the same thing they don’t have to be wimpy but they don’t have to be so harsh in terms of you will obey the way that comes up. At the same time we don’t want to be Pollyannaish you’re dealing with batterers, you’re dealing with people that have been are very dangerous and people who will push every rule to the max. I’m not advocating to something that’s wimpy or vague in fact just the opposite but something that is not quite so the tone of it is not quite so judgmental and harsh.

Jane: You think Ellen that part of it is and I think this connects the fatal flaw number five in being reflecting and being true to the guiding principles is you have to look at how you build in elements of flexibility to respond to people’s unique circumstances. Respond to those distinctions in what do we mean by domestic violence that we talked about earlier.

Ellen: Right and the last one is going through those six principles and just if you put those six principles up against every policy guarantee that you’ll start re-writing your policies a bit.

Beth: Ok we’re going to take a little break for questions.

Stephanie: Our first question is from Sammy.

Sammy: Hi this is Sammy and I’m calling from Virginia. I just had this statement when you were referring to letting your advisory board read your policies, the problem that I have with that when I first came on board with this position is it seemed like they wanted me to make them more harsher. Because their view of batterers is like they’re so evil and you can’t let them do anything and so now just listening to that and the thing about some of the policies that we still have in place I can see I can see the advisory council’s influence in that one.

Ellen: Right, it’s why we don’t let the victim decide the punishment of a person because they’ll hang them all. You do want to really pick an advisory board and you know you can really be blunt with people and say look we know if you’re dealing with a group of battered women you have to say you know we’re going to be coming from our highest spiritual selves when we do this and that these are the principles and that we are to try help them get through this period of time without hurting anyone. This is our commitment to being clear, it’s to being very protective of victims of battering but at the same time we’re here to try to move these guys in a way that is going to do less harm. We’re not the ones that are going to be punishing them that’s not our role our role, is to make sure that they don’t use us or the kids to continue to batter and our role is to give access for visits.

Stephanie: Our next question comes from Diana.

Diana: Hi this is Diana from Lamont, a couple of questions, one is can you repeat in one or two sentences what is available for summer I didn’t have a pen or pad with me.

Ellen: The two things that are one thing that is coming out this summer will be this thing called the St. Paul blueprint and it is a set of policies that criminal justice system from 9-1-1 all the way through in every one of those policies that distinguishes between battering cases, reactive violence and non-battering related domestic violence. It shows you how to build that in to policies. It’s not in a visitation center but I think by seeing how it all comes together it’s really something that would be good for your collaborative to look at to see how the agency have to merge their policies so that they’re working together and obviously one of the things you want is a collaborative that’s giving you what you need to figure out who am I dealing with here, am I dealing with a batterer, am I dealing with somebody who has been battered for 10 years because all I’m getting is his story and her story and I can’t tell. So you should be able to expect after you’ve worked with your collaborative for so long sometime that you’re getting enough information to help make those determinations and setting up your safety procedures accordingly.

Jane: I think it would also be helpful to in illustrating how you ground it because one of the things that you’re trying to do is define this common ground or understanding that everyone who’s part of it in this case the collaborative buys into and understands.

Ellen: The second thing that I mentioned was a piece coming out from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges on how to differentiate how do you use these same three categories in family court and that would be much more tied into the visitation center of looking at things that won’t be ready until almost a year but when it comes out it’s exactly what visitation center needs in a way of looking at different types of domestic violence and how they influence parenting and the decision by the court as where a child should be and what kind of access they should have to the non-custodial parent.

Diana: That makes sense and sounds very exciting. Any idea when any of these will be available?

Ellen: Yeah, the second one will be a year out and the other one will be out next summer. This coming summer.

Diana: I have one more question, you’re saying that policy should be written carefully to as to not lump all things together all individuals are individual situation I completely agree, why are they trainings that are put on by Praxis tend to be set up with for everyone when people’s needs tend to be different but also you know also many centers come from different places, there’s a difference if the center comes out of domestic violence agency or let’s say the court or the DCF or probation/parole or something and so there’s a whole different belief system that already comes from trainings and everything like that, a lot of times the trainings like Ok we’re going to talk about this and it’s a lumped together and not sure if it’s always all that helpful, not that I’m suggesting that this isn’t helpful.

Ellen: I get what you’re saying and first of all I want to say I’m not saying the first thing you said is that everybody is an individual and you have to treat them all individually you can’t in order to run any kind of operation you have to group events together. What I said is that when you do it when you create a category ask yourself who did we just put together and are they really the same? Are there differences in who we just lumped together that’s been there for this policy wouldn’t work for everyone. So you have to lump people together you just can’t write policies in which every single individual circumstance there you have to lump. You have to use categories in any kind of administration of institutions or agencies. You ask the questions, who did we just lump together, and if that who’s in this group does this policy really fit all of those people and if it doesn’t then you have to have to sets of categories or you have to start to this isn’t the right policies for this group of people. Secondly, of why do we do what we say you shouldn’t do? Because we never have time to read our own advice. I guess that’s the answer you’re right we talk about this all the time that how can we differentiate in the level of expertise people have, where they are in the process so OVW has tried to do that by having TA’s just for people who are just getting funded and they’re new grantees. So they get a whole range of TA that people that have been around for a long time don’t get. As new people that are coming in they get a specialized track of TA and then everybody else gets lumped together. I do think this is an on-going problem with all of the OVW TA is that we’re bringing together people and often times you’ve got someone who’s the first time at a training, other people have had a lot of trainings and it’s been a really difficult thing for OVW and the TA providers to figure out how do we adjust to the varying skill levels and what people know about domestic violence and what they know about the particular area of domestic violence they are in so I think you’ve hit on something that we talk about a lot and haven’t really solved.

Stephanie: Our next question comes from Barbara.

Barbara: Hi I’m from Green county Ohio and my question is this. I totally understand when you’re developing your policy about for instance keeping the parties separate and not maybe making you know the custody parents arrive five minutes early the non-custodial parent whatever my question is when we do an intake orientation procedure is something that clients do need to know so do you address that in a different or separate from your policies?

Ellen: Yes you have a document that’s called your policy and a document that’s called procedures.

Barbara: Ok, Ok that answers my questions.

Ellen: And you don’t mix the two and you don’t think of it this way you’re board sets your policies you know your board of directors this is who we as a board of directors want this to be our policy you’re director and staff and the directors should be really setting and I shouldn’t say this universal because now I’m lumping you all together and you’re very different kinds of organizations but basically you generally think of it as a board set policy and administrative agencies set protocol and procedure. Protocol and procedure can change a lot; policies should be fixed and only changed very rarely. Another thing is that policy is what you get sued about; so if you have a policy that says that you’re going to warn people and you don’t warn somebody and something goes wrong you didn’t follow your policy, your procedures are more set of guidelines that you don’t want to be so quite absolute directive where policies are this is how it’s going to be. So you want to protect yourself a little bit by taking things out of policy that you don’t tend to do every time.

Barbara: Ok, so my follow up question would be then when you do an intake orientation you would just review the procedures with the person who is going through the intake.

Ellen: Yes, you know you can decide when you write your policy and procedures what do your clients need to know and you can basically really work towards a client pamphlet of what about the policies pertaining to them because you have a lot of policies that’s really about your staff other things, but that could be for public consumption of people want it but you really want something that’s written more specifically to clients.

Jane: I do think that one of the areas that requires the greatest amount of chewing over because it is tempting to want to throw it all in one place. Then you start losing sight of well what’s the core here? What’s really required? And then get locked in a way that you don’t have that flexibility like you said Ellen to be able to adjust and tweak the procedure the putting in to practice piece of it. I’m inclined to say all of our policy should be no more than one page.

Jane: I think it’s helpful too to always keep in our heads that we’re really talking about the proverbial three legged stool; one leg is policy language, one leg is the procedural support for that, that’s how you make a policy real and the third thing is the training piece to the ways in which everybody comes to know what is in there. Maybe it’s a four legged stool the fourth one is that how you communicate to different audiences, so what do parents use in the center need to know. Do they need that exact whole policy and procedure document probably not?

Ellen: I don’t think the parent should have one that says what you’re going to do if staff comes drinking to the center, I mean It’s not that they can’t have access to that if they don’t want to sue you if want of your staff people was drunk. I don’t think it’s something that you pass out. You really keep your personnel type policies separate from things like that.

Beth: We’ve received a couple of email questions. Several of them all related to getting approval from OVW for your policies and so I think what these messages mean is people are thinking we may be needing some work in some of our policies and now what do we do with OVW so just a reminder that OVW does need to approve your policies so if you significantly change them then they need to know that. So that was the question, several questions asking somewhat of the same thing.

Ellen: Let me say this OVW is not requiring this thing that we’re saying right now. Like I’ve read a lot of OVW approved policies that some of these ones that you’re seeing right here are criticizing are so you don’t have to make this distinction yet in OVW policies but I think this whole thing that we’ve just given you is a…it’s a training piece that we’ve developed for OVW on writing policies and I think there’s a move in this direction in the future so as your writing new policies if you follow a lot of these things where your saying that you’re going to be in pretty good shape. They’re not going to say to you Oh my God come and look at that you’ve got procedures in with your policies you are dead meat. They’re more interested in the content and you following the principles and are you really protective of the adult and child victims that are what they are looking for in their critique of policies right now. They are not going with more of these technical things we’re saying on how to lay them out and how to write them accurately, they are trying to get to the core just the basics right now, do your policies really protect adult victims and children give equal regard, etc. Would you say that’s true Beth?

Ellen: They might eventually go foward once they develop a model policy then you’ll be able to see a layout of the policies more in line with what we’re saying here. I don’t want people to look at your policies and panic because you’re policies won’t match this thing we’re saying. If they’re protective of adult and children victims, if they fit your special conditions, if they go along with the six principles of OVW then you’re going to be in pretty good shape.

Jane: You’ve got a policy in place and you want to step back and say how do we try to make sure that this isn’t something that’s going to end up being more harmful than helpful? That’s going to run counter to those guiding principles that we’re trying to make real through the policies that we’re developing. So this is an adaptation of some work that Ellen and Coral MacDonald did a few years ago around developing policies and protocols and it’s a guide to sitting down and taking a piece of policy, reading it over and asking for example, number one, does this policy anticipate how batterers might circumvent its intent and find ways to use the policy against victims and asking well what do we have here? Is it on track to help our center address the complexities of who people are and their circumstances? And create that opposing experiencing the battering to provide that equal regard for safety if not, how might this be a problem of what do we need to look closer at? My hunch would be in many cases it’s maybe, we don’t quite know yet and what additional information do we need. For example, we’ve been talking a lot and some of our policy examples are about this very tight arrival and departure, defining a number of minutes and then taking a look at how that might work in ways that make it easier perhaps for someone who’s battering to make use of that. We talked about how that works differently if the visiting parent is actually the person who’s being harmed and how that tight framework around those categories of custodial and non-custodial can make that look very different…

Ellen: For example if you have a hard and fast rule that says ten minutes late such and such will happen that can be used by a batterer against than someone that’s brining the kids in and she has three kids and she’s trying to get them on the bus across town and she’s late and he can say look you disobeyed these rules, is that what you’re talking about?

Jane: That could be one example of it. Where that rule then if it’s coupled with and we always report this information ends up making her look like the irresponsible parent who’s violating the rules of the center, etc. But also in who has access to again that notion of keeping parents apart and how that can be maneuvered at different times. Another example I hear bumping down to the second one and anticipating how it might be used against victims of battering by other interveners, we haven’t talked a lot about how the information goes out in documentation and reporting it’s another one of those feathered giant topics but going back to our sample policies and this language about children refusing to visit and this automatic report to the court being made and again there’s the question of what you have in place around that collaborative but how can that also then be used in ways that weren’t anticipated than weren’t intended. So laying out here a series of questions to ask and explore about policy and is this what we really intend and how might this not work.

Ellen: I just want to give out a word of sympathy to everyone, I realized that writing these things don’t make it into a chore just think you’ve time it’s not like you got to re-write all your policies instantly but if you can just take a segment at a time and start working on them to get them to be more precisely what you want and more reflective of who you are, what your principles are and things like that. I think you shouldn’t try to take on the whole thing all at once but just take an area of policy development work on it and then move on to another area. I do think that you’re getting a lot of good advice from us on how to do it, you’re not getting any good samples and so that’s something we will talk to OVW we just need to have at least four like a policy on child refusal or a policy on you know if were just to pick three or four policy areas and really good model policies I think it would be a huge impact on everybody, OK that’s how you put this all together in one column. I think we will definitely talk to OVW about getting something like that out sometime in the next; I’m not even going to say how long.

Beth: Don’t put a time frame on this. Till this day as a result of these calls I’ve been getting a lot of calls from grantees to ask for some specific help and talk through and brainstorm together and I have been working with a number of development grantees on their entire policy and getting ready to submit and open their doors. I just wanted to remind everyone on the call that you’re not alone; the purpose of TA is to be here to support you. So you could contact me at any time, I can either help you or get you hooked up with a resource, I can get you some things to think about or we can spend some time talking. So contact me anytime and to know that this is a daunting task that feels very overwhelming and we know that and we’re here to support you. Please do use technical assistance as often as you want, I’m here. I’ll support you in any way I can.

I really want to express my sincere thanks to Ellen and Jane for taking the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to do this with us. We really appreciate it, we appreciate your intelligence and your smartness around all of this, so thank you for doing that. Thank you to all of you for taking time out of your day to listen to all of these calls in an on-going way, thank you for putting in your feedback

Ellen: Thanks everyone, thanks Jane.

Beth: Hello and welcome to today’s audio conference training on crafting visitation policies that account for battering offered by the Office on Violence Against Women in partnership with Praxis International my name is Beth McNamara and I will be your host for today’s call. So thank you for those of you who’ve joined. We are concluding our three part series today. So we have a full agenda today, we have Jane Sadusky and Ellen Pence joining our call today, this is the third part of fatal flaws and remedies in writing domestic violence related policies. Ellen is the executive director of Praxis International and Jane is a consultant with Praxis and has done an incredible amount of work over the past two years they both have with the supervised visitation grant program.

Ellen: Ok thank you very much Beth. One of the things that we always want to say is that this whole series is brought to you the technical assistance program from the Office on Violence Against Women, they approved the agenda but this is not OVW talking this is Praxis talking and sometimes especially in this whole area of policy making you really have to make sure that you’re working with your policies if you’re drafting new policies that you’re working with your program managers so that you’re really making sure that you’re being consistent with the OVW guidelines in making your policies. So OVW approves us doing this and they approve this agenda but not everything we say. Also I would like to say that the first time we kind of went through the nine tips of policy making were pretty broad and we got a lot of feedback from that one that we had spent so much time on the first three and we rushed through the last six so they wanted us to be more paced and we did so then the last one we paced ourselves right through the agenda which was the architecture of a good policy which was really about writing them.

Today what we’re going to talk about is some of the fatal flaws in writing policies. We just sent out a few little sample policies and we didn’t sent them out as sample good policies we just send them out as samples of policies so that we could make note of some of the flaws that we’re talking about. We found flaws in every one of these policies that match our what we call the fatal flaws of policy making. So we’re going to start off with the first flaw of policy making is when your policy lumps everything together as domestic violence and doesn’t recognize that domestic violence isn’t all the same thing and Jane is going to start us off with that one.

Jane: Ok thanks Ellen and thanks to everyone who is listening in on the call today. The fatal flaw one is not distinguishing among different types of levels of domestic violence. I think this is one of the biggest discussions that’s swirling out there as we realized over the last 30 years or so of all of the attention and reform work around domestic violence we kind of ended up lumping everything into that one big bucket and labeling it domestic violence. When what we lose sight of is this distinctions between battering, coercive control that ongoing pattern of intimidation and coercion, and threats which I think is a lot of what we all carry around in our heads. We’re really talking about battering with that specific contempt to control and dominate our partner that’s carried out through this combination of ongoing physical, sexual, emotional attacks and has this aspect of coercion into it. So that gets thrown in the bucket. Then the reaction to that gets thrown in the bucket, so if I’m trying to stand up for myself, if I’m trying to defend myself, retaliate for what’s been done to me by a battering partner, protect someone, my children, another family member, resist and push back against that coercion. Well all that gets thrown into the big bucket too. Those situations for example where a brain injury or trauma can produce a change in behavior and violence against a partner or their family members. So we’ve thrown everything into the big bucket and that means then that we lose sight of that principle that’s guiding our work under the visitation program which is equal regard for safety of children and adult victims. So throwing everything in there then is not very helpful in really aiming our response to build that protection and safety for adult victims and their children. So looking at our sample policies for example, the center was first and foremost designed to provide safety to adult and child survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and child abuse. It’s the language that’s been used in the visitation program but it’s also kind of throwing everything in there and part of our responsibility then in writing our policy and avoiding these fatal flaws is to really be clear about the wide range of violence that’s included in that term domestic violence and in particular to distinguish among battering, resistive violence, non-battering violence, and realizing that it is a big discussion and it relates back to what we were talking about those nine tips and the architecture of a good policy it relates back being really clear about how we’re defining our mission and our role in this intervention so part of the remedy is defining terms, being clear about what we mean when we say domestic violence and making that distinction.

Ellen: You get a lot of women who are visiting in the visitation center who use some violence and they’ve lost custody of their kids, a combination of maybe she got arrested one night and then he’s filed a protection order and now she’s out of the house and she’s visiting the kids in the center but he’s the one that’s been battering her. That would be a typical I think in some centers as many as 40 percent of women are visiting their children in the center and most of those women are battered by men.

Jane: Right and if you’re not taking time to make the distinction and understand what you’re meaning you’re going to miss that and being able to craft policies that account for that safety. I think one factor in this is whenever you start being absolute. Policies that set these very strict arriving departing 15 minute and shaping things around the time that someone is there rather than around a policy with a purpose of preventing parents from having contact with each other which is related to that understanding of domestic violence and taking time to articulate things and ask questions from that point of view.

Ellen: Part of you policy and Jane’s talking about in writing your policy it would be great if you can tell the difference between a batterer, someone who is reacting to battering and someone who is using domestic violence but neither of those things are going on. The only way that’s going to happen is if your collaborative is set up to let you know some of that. So this would be for some of you an impossible task if all you get is a referral and two people show up at your door telling you stories. You can maybe get into it what’s going on but you can’t, really none of us can totally know any of this but the way you would really know is that if you had access to information. In trying to make available to people who intervene in these cases, batterers treatment people, visitation centers and others this criminal court information is very important in letting us know who is doing what to whom and what impact. It’s important for us to think of how are we using this collaborative to let us figure out which type of violence are we dealing with at our center. And this is a new talk in the domestic violence field. We’re not quite where we need to be in terms of giving visitation centers the information they need.

Jane: Right and taking all of these points and discussions thinking of them as the warp and the wasp if we’re collectively weaving this fabric of safety there’s a lot of things that go into that and you’re right not expecting visitation centers have the information they need or can go it alone.

Ellen: The family court who is mostly who you’re dealing with would be doing this assessment as part of a routine assessment of where the kids are going to live and how much access they’re going to have with the other parent. Ok flaw two is this one where policies used categories that lump similar situations, people or, events into one group and so I think this was one that everybody knows about when we use the term custodial parent and non-custodial parent there’s obviously half the people using your visitation center are custodial and the other half are non-custodial parents so it’s a natural device but once you divide people that way you can’t necessarily see that all the non-custodial parents are the ones that potentially cause harm to the other and this is where the lumping together is a problem. It’s not so bad that you make the division and lump them together it’s what you tribute to that group of people. So visitation centers for a long time have said, OK we’re going to have the custodial parent the ones that are attached with the children and the non-custodial parents so we’re going to set it up the assumption meaning the non-custodial parent is the problem parent more and that their probably more dangerous. So we’re going to have them come to the visitation center first and make sure they can’t hassle the non-custodial parent as they’re coming in to the center so let’s get them in here and get them seated and once they’re here the non-custodial parent can safely come in. What happens when the custodial is in fact the dangerous one the one that is doing harm and battering the non-custodial now you’ve got the custodial parent able to be outside the building or wherever to see exactly what time this person is coming and to be there unsupervised so the idea of separate entrances and staggered times was to prevent contact but mostly it was to protect one parent from the other. As we know in many centers up to 30-40 percent of battered women are the non-custodial parent and therefore the way we’ve set it up is to assume that they’re the ones that need to be protected against instead of protected. So that’s the most obvious lumping together I want to give a couple in this sample ones here of lumping together similar things. What you want to basically say is every single time you use a category of any kind ask what have we brought together into this category and what assumptions are we making about it. So children who refuse to visit is a category in many of your policies so let’s go to children refusing to visit. If a child of a parent refuses to come to the center that’s one visit refusal and the second one is if they’re already at the center and they decide not to. If the child arrives at the center and is saying that he or she does not want to visit the non-custodial parent we will have lumped together all of these children who don’t want to visit and you’ve said we’re going to do four things with them even though the reason those kids don’t want to visit can be really different. A lot of things can be different about that but you’ve said no matter what those differences of this is what we’re going to do if age appropriate we’re going to take a side him or her in private we’re going to ask they’d like to shorten the visit for 10 or 15 minutes we’re going to ask if they just want to say hello, we’re going to ask if they’d like to write a letter or draw a picture to the parent, so basically what these four items are doing is saying is there some minimal contact we can create between the parent and the child, the child does not want to go into the full visit so just some minimal contact and here’s our four ways of getting that minimal contact and maybe if they start one little thing it would allow the whole visit to happen so maybe they say ok I’ll go for 10 minutes maybe the whole visit will happen. So these four things are presuming some universal kind of condition amongst these children that don’t want to visit. So now let’s stop and go back and say that there’s a whole lot of reasons kids don’t want to visit, right? They don’t want because they’re scared, they don’t want to visit because they’re mad at the parent, they don’t want to visit because they feel a loyalty to the other parent, they don’t want to visit for many reasons. Would you say that these four things that you will do really cover those four reasons well. I can imagine situations when these four things are not really the things that you want to do if the child doesn’t want to visit and so you have a situation then where this policy is lumping together a group of dissimilar children as one group and then having four things you’re going to do regardless of why those kids are in that group. So you just want to keep saying did we do this here, did we do this here, did we mean non-custodial parent is that who we’re trying to say comes first or are we trying to say the parent needing protection, who is that we want to come first or second, who are these children in this group, and how can we distinguish that? Let’s stop there on that one; I want to bring in another situation here.

The category is the category of alcohol and drugs equaling danger. We have another term saying if people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and I’m going to talk about that a little bit later when we talk about the use of jargon or when we don’t define terms properly, Jane is going to talk about that next. In this notion of under the influence of alcohol and drugs is going to go in there but it’s also part of this notion of a category. The use of alcohol is what we’re talking about, so I want to give an example of a visitation center a while back and this guy drops his kids off there, three kids, every Sunday, and in the Winter he goes about a block and a half down the road and he watches football at the local bar and then he has a beer and he comes back an hour later and he’s had his beer and he’s watched his football game at the local bar and he picks up the kids. Staff can smell half the time that he’s had a beer and or two, whatever, he doesn’t look drunk but he’s now gone off to have a beer while waiting for the kids. What is the policy? How is it directed towards that person? So, the staff doesn’t do anything about because they don’t ever see him in that he appears drunk or that he can’t take care of the kids or anything like that. They wouldn’t call the police and say well I think this guy is drunk because they have no idea how much he’s consumed and he’s not acting like he’s drunk at all. So when you have a policy like this that says alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center I mean you can’t bring them in, the bottle or whatever, any clients, staff or volunteers under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be asked to leave the facility. Now what does under the influence of alcohol or drugs mean? If a client is under the influence of alcohol or drugs staff will decide if the services will be terminated. Local law enforcement may also be notified. So what’s the woman to say if she thinks you’ve got a policy like this and she knows that you know that he went down had a beer while the kids where there and came back and you didn’t do anything about this policy because what is the policy actually say? Is it saying alcohol and drugs are dangerous therefor any use of alcohol and drugs will be dangerous to the children? Because the next policy says that we believe being under the influence again that term of drugs and alcohol cause everyone’s safety to be at-risk. So what’s this center going to do when a guy comes back and he says he’s had his beer? What is it that people actually want to say here?

Let’s talk about the one if they don’t want to visit. The woman at the visitation center said to me you know just a lot of reasons that kids come to the center and once they get there they don’t want to visit their parents and I said OK what do you center want to do about that? And she said well we don’t want to pressure them or force them to visit the parent that’s her bottom line we don’t want to be forcing them or pressuring them if they really don’t want to. Ok, if that’s what’s going on and that’s what you’re saying then what is it that you’re trying to do there, what do you do to not force them but at the same time not to say OK bye kids if they decided not to visit today? They said well we try to figure out what’s going on with the child and if it’s something we can do to facilitate a visit without forcing them, OK, so you want to try to facilitate a visit is that what I’m hearing? Yes, ok so then what if you want too but the kid’s just still doesn’t want to, then we don’t want to push it. So then what would you do? Then they say we just write a letter to the court and say we couldn’t do it, ok, so end of conversation. So what she’s saying is this, I just wrote a policy that reflects what she was saying:

The center recognizes that for a myriad of reasons the child may arrive at the center and then not want to visit the non-custodial parent. Staff will not pressure or force the child to visit the parent. Staff will make attempt to determine why a child is reluctant to visit and whether or not the center can do something to allow the visit to occur. If a child remains unwilling to visit the visit will be reschedule and the staff will talk to both parents about a possible resolution.

I want to say why I ended there; so that’s very different policy than the one you see here whether telling the staff people here take the kids out first talk to them, then see if they want to go for the short visit, then do the hello because those are really specific and we talked about this last week those are way too specific of instructions to use in a policy. Instead the policy is trying to say what the center is doing. We know why there is a lot of reasons this happens, we’re not going to pressure them, if we don’t want to we’re going to try to figure what’s going on, we’ll try to facilitate a visit if that doesn’t work then we’ll do this. Now what are we going to do about it, this thing that you have in this policy. Policies should not get down to ask a kid if they’d like a visit shorten by 10 or 15 minutes, I mean you’re just not going to do that in a lot of cases. You don’t want to put in policy instructions to the staff on how to carry out their tasks. That belongs in a protocol or procedure and we talked about that last week. You see how policy is first lumping these similar things together and then treating them alike and then being too specific because they lumped things together. Where is the policy that I read to you stays general, we’re not going to force people to visit, we’ll just try to determine the nature of why the child doesn’t want to, see if we can facilitate a visit, if we can’t we’re going to re-schedule. Now what are we going to do? When the visitation center says we’re going to report it back to the court, that’s a real policy question which is beyond what we’re talking about right here but the questions I would have is, why are you going to report this back to the court? Who should the visitation center report to when a child refuses to visit? Should the write it up and give it to each parent? Why would the center automatically be sending back to the court unless they have an agreement with the parents, court, or the lawyers or somebody that they’re going to write reports of them and send them off when X, Y, or Z happens. This idea that you send it back to the court is also one that you question, that’s lumping together all sorts of reasons why the visits are going to stop and it’s that the outcome that automatically the visitation center always wants to do report it back to the courts. It maybe that you have an agreement with the courts, that, that’s what you’re going to do, a court referral. Remember these are two independent people using a visitation center in the middle of a court case usually, but many people are not in the middle of this court case. I don’t want to say it that way, what I want to say is that to lump together all these things that you should automatically refer this back to the court is perhaps a questionable practice. You should ask who would we send back to the court and why? Would be send the letter to both of their attorneys if they have them? Would we send the letter off to the parents and let them decide what they’re going to do about it? Do we really want to use that category? Do we really want to say given this, this is what you’re going to do? So the categories question of what did we just lump together? And what assumptions are we making about that? And is that driving action that we really want take every time this occurs? That’s your three questions. You’ll see it’s very helpful to ask those questions as you go along. I want to raise the issue of lumping together children who don’t want to visit, lumping together things like alcohol equals danger, lumping together custodial, non-custodial similar kinds groups of people, those are just three in our sample policies.

Jane: A couple that caught my eye were lumping together children and parents looking at refusing to visit, those could be very different. Throwing it all together there and then reporting all that to the court or in sample one clients, staff, or volunteers, then starting to mix them up policy related to the relationship between the center and parents who are using it with volunteers and staff.

Ellen: That’s a real problem, one look at the policy in sample one it says “Alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center” I think it should say that staff and volunteers can’t come under the influence but not in the same written policies you’re going to do it with clients who do it. It’s a whole different way you’re going to deal with staff and volunteers that come under the influence. Any clients, staff, or volunteers under the influence of alcohol and drugs may be asked to leave the facility. Maybe we ask the staff person to leave, what are you going to do if the staff person that tells you this policy what you’re going to do with the client? It doesn’t say what you’re going to do with the staff person and you don’t want to mix those two together. Have one policy around clients that come in and are under the influence, I don’t even like that term “under the influence,” but clients who come in who have been drinking or using drugs and their behavior then is influenced by it and when staff are probably using it at all. The restrictions of staff should be probably much more restrictive. Staff should not have used any drugs or alcohol before they come to a center and I think people in these two policies by using term under the influence I think they’re not saying they can’t have used but they can’t be exhibiting behavior that shows that they’ve used.

Jane: I’m going to move us on to flaw three. We’re starting to bump up against human time. I think flaw three the policy uses jargon and does not define the term used as Ellen mentioned two and three are really closely connected because it’s often the jargon that signals the category so when we get so familiar in our work world with certain terms NCP, CP, non-custodial parent, custodial parent, critical incident, facilitator, monitor, we get very comfortable with but again sometimes that can signal the category that we need to be taking a closer look at as well as looking at how does this relay the idea and what we’re trying to get at with this particular policy. One of the words that caught my ear when I was reading through this it’s on page two it’s sample number three, in talking about children will be transferred from the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent. That word transferred, what does that carry with it, this notion of property that’s moved from one place to the other. Is there another way of expressing this role that the center has in accompanying or escorting the child from one parent to the other and just reading critically with that is this a word that is going to be readily understood. How’s it going to be understood and is this something that’s signaling a category that we want to look more closely at. Same thing with using the building and staff as the means. Are we bringing kids in at one point in the building and taking them out to the end? How do we want to describe our role in making sure that there’s no parental contact and then making sure that children move from one place to another in a way that’s safe and comfortable to them?

Ellen: Basically the center is designed to make sure that there’s absolutely no contact between the adults at the center. They don’t have a chance to talk to each other, they don’t have a chance to see each other, that’s why you have stagger arrival times, that’s why you have separate doors, that’s why you have separate waiting rooms, etc. Nobody ever puts it in the policy; we’re designed to make sure there’s no contact between the parents, to do that we do the following. That then is really easy to picture, it’s hard for us because we’ve all seen these so much, we’ve talked about it so much, stagger arrival and different entrances and exits all those words jumble up and what are they saying. If you just say we’re going to make it so you two don’t get to see each other then all of those things fall into place for someone. So, that question are you just using straight forward language that gives the reader a picture of what you’re getting at.

Jane: One way too that you can help catch those is to have someone read this who’s not so steeped in it. Is there an advisory group of parents using the center or can you take this to a group of women who meet at the local shelter and say help us read through this, does this make sense? Are there terms that we don’t understand that you don’t understand, so thinking about who could be your critical readers as you develop policy is an important point.

Ellen: In this next one about being client-centered, there’s a couple of things, asking people to read this and see if it fits you, if the policy actually works for you. That’s the notion of having an advisory council, a group of women who have used either a visitation center or have had to arrange visits, etc. Even if they didn’t use a visitation center an advisory group like that can be really valuable for the visitation center. Having a group of clients who have used it, older children who are not using it anymore but used to, they can all give you really good feedback on these policies and what didn’t work. Both in terms of the policy itself and then in terms of how it’s written. I think the other thing about client-centered part, because we talked about this last time so we don’t need to talk so much about it, but the policy should read if we want to put in respect for people. It’s a big difference if you’re a person reading it. They’re basically trying to say the same thing you know what you don’t get to drink here and if you do things are going to happen. But sample one says alcohol and drugs are not permitted at the center any client and staff under the influence will may be asked to leave the facility, if a client is under the influence of drugs or alcohol the staff will decide if further services be terminated, local law enforcement may also be notified, this is all kind of like threatening language the next one says we believe that being under the influence causes everyone’s safety to be at-risk so this is allowed to be in the visitation center expect to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and then you could put something in there that we reserve the rights to do the following things and list some of them. The visitation center is there to help people through a difficult time in life and it’s to recognize that these are difficult times that not very nice things are going on and we’re here to help people get through this without hurting each other and if that’s the tone of what you’re thinking that tone should come out in a way these things are written, so your policies can say almost the same thing they don’t have to be wimpy but they don’t have to be so harsh in terms of you will obey the way that comes up. At the same time we don’t want to be Pollyannaish you’re dealing with batterers, you’re dealing with people that have been are very dangerous and people who will push every rule to the max. I’m not advocating to something that’s wimpy or vague in fact just the opposite but something that is not quite so the tone of it is not quite so judgmental and harsh.

Jane: You think Ellen that part of it is and I think this connects the fatal flaw number five in being reflecting and being true to the guiding principles is you have to look at how you build in elements of flexibility to respond to people’s unique circumstances. Respond to those distinctions in what do we mean by domestic violence that we talked about earlier.

Ellen: Right and the last one is going through those six principles and just if you put those six principles up against every policy guarantee that you’ll start re-writing your policies a bit.

Beth: Ok we’re going to take a little break for questions.

Stephanie: Our first question is from Sammy.

Sammy: Hi this is Sammy and I’m calling from Virginia. I just had this statement when you were referring to letting your advisory board read your policies, the problem that I have with that when I first came on board with this position is it seemed like they wanted me to make them more harsher. Bbecause their view of batterers is like they’re so evil and you can’t let them do anything and so now just listening to that and the thing about some of the policies that we still have in place I can see I can see the advisory council’s influence in that one.

Ellen: Right, it’s why we don’t let the victim decide the punishment of a person because they’ll hang them all. You do want to really pick an advisory board and you know you can really be blunt with people and say look we know if you’re dealing with a group of battered women you have to say you know we’re going to be coming from our highest spiritual selves when we do this and that these are the principles and that we are to try help them get through this period of time without hurting anyone. This is our commitment to being clear, it’s to being very protective of victims of battering but at the same time we’re here to try to move these guys in a way that is going to do less harm. We’re not the ones that are going to be punishing them that’s not our role our role, is to make sure that they don’t use us or the kids to continue to batter and our role is to give access for visits.

Stephanie: Our next question comes from Diana.

Diana: Hi this is Diana from Lamont, a couple of questions, one is can you repeat in one or two sentences what is available for summer I didn’t have a pen or pad with me.

Ellen: The two things that are one thing that is coming out this summer will be this thing called the St. Paul blueprint and it is a set of policies that criminal justice system from 9-1-1 all the way through in every one of those policies that distinguishes between battering cases, reactive violence and non-battering related domestic violence. It shows you how to build that in to policies. It’s not in a visitation center but I think by seeing how it all comes together it’s really something that would be good for your collaborative to look at to see how the agency have to merge their policies so that they’re working together and obviously one of the things you want is a collaborative that’s giving you what you need to figure out who am I dealing with here, am I dealing with a batterer, am I dealing with somebody who has been battered for 10 years because all I’m getting is his story and her story and I can’t tell. So you should be able to expect after you’ve worked with your collaborative for so long sometime that you’re getting enough information to help make those determinations and setting up your safety procedures accordingly.

Jane: I think it would also be helpful to in illustrating how you ground it because one of the things that you’re trying to do is define this common ground or understanding that everyone who’s part of it in this case the collaborative buys into and understands.

Ellen: The second thing that I mentioned was a piece coming out from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges on how to differentiate how do you use these same three categories in family court and that would be much more tied into the visitation center of looking at things that won’t be ready until almost a year but when it comes out it’s exactly what visitation center needs in a way of looking at different types of domestic violence and how they influence parenting and the decision by the court as where a child should be and what kind of access they should have to the non-custodial parent.

Diana: That makes sense and sounds very exciting. Any idea when any of these will be available?

Ellen: Yeah, the second one will be a year out and the other one will be out next summer. This coming summer.

Diana: I have one more question, you’re saying that policy should be written carefully to as to not lump all things together all individuals are individual situation I completely agree, why are they trainings that are put on by Praxis tend to be set up with for everyone when people’s needs tend to be different but also you know also many centers come from different places, there’s a difference if the center comes out of domestic violence agency or let’s say the court or the DCF or probation/parole or something and so there’s a whole different belief system that already comes from trainings and everything like that, a lot of times the trainings like Ok we’re going to talk about this and it’s a lumped together and not sure if it’s always all that helpful, not that I’m suggesting that this isn’t helpful.

Ellen: I get what you’re saying and first of all I want to say I’m not saying the first thing you said is that everybody is an individual and you have to treat them all individually you can’t in order to run any kind of operation you have to group events together. What I said is that when you do it when you create a category ask yourself who did we just put together and are they really the same? Are there differences in who we just lumped together that’s been there for this policy wouldn’t work for everyone. So you have to lump people together you just can’t write policies in which every single individual circumstance there you have to lump. You have to use categories in any kind of administration of institutions or agencies. You ask the questions, who did we just lump together, and if that who’s in this group does this policy really fit all of those people and if it doesn’t then you have to have to sets of categories or you have to start to this isn’t the right policies for this group of people. Secondly, of why do we do what we say you shouldn’t do? Because we never have time to read our own advice. I guess that’s the answer you’re right we talk about this all the time that how can we differentiate in the level of expertise people have, where they are in the process so OVW has tried to do that by having TA’s just for people who are just getting funded and they’re new grantees. So they get a whole range of TA that people that have been around for a long time don’t get. As new people that are coming in they get a specialized track of TA and then everybody else gets lumped together. I do think this is an on-going problem with all of the OVW TA is that we’re bringing together people and often times you’ve got someone who’s the first time at a training, other people have had a lot of trainings and it’s been a really difficult thing for OVW and the TA providers to figure out how do we adjust to the varying skill levels and what people know about domestic violence and what they know about the particular area of domestic violence they are in so I think you’ve hit on something that we talk about a lot and haven’t really solved.

Stephanie: Our next question comes from Barbara.

Barbara: Hi I’m from Green county Ohio and my question is this. I totally understand when you’re developing your policy about for instance keeping the parties separate and not maybe making you know the custody parents arrive five minutes early the non-custodial parent whatever my question is when we do an intake orientation procedure is something that clients do need to know so do you address that in a different or separate from your policies?

Ellen: Yes you have a document that’s called your policy and a document that’s called procedures.

Barbara: Ok, Ok that answers my questions.

Ellen: And you don’t mix the two and you don’t think of it this way you’re board sets your policies you know your board of directors this is who we as a board of directors want this to be our policy you’re director and staff and the directors should be really setting and I shouldn’t say this universal because now I’m lumping you all together and you’re very different kinds of organizations but basically you generally think of it as a board set policy and administrative agencies set protocol and procedure. Protocol and procedure can change a lot; policies should be fixed and only changed very rarely. Another thing is that policy is what you get sued about; so if you have a policy that says that you’re going to warn people and you don’t warn somebody and something goes wrong you didn’t follow your policy, your procedures are more set of guidelines that you don’t want to be so quite absolute directive where policies are this is how it’s going to be. So you want to protect yourself a little bit by taking things out of policy that you don’t tend to do every time.

Barbara: Ok, so my follow up question would be then when you do an intake orientation you would just review the procedures with the person who is going through the intake.

Ellen: Yes, you know you can decide when you write your policy and procedures what do your clients need to know and you can basically really work towards a client pamphlet of what about the policies pertaining to them because you have a lot of policies that’s really about your staff other things, but that could be for public consumption of people want it but you really want something that’s written more specifically to clients.

Jane: I do think that one of the areas that requires the greatest amount of chewing over because it is tempting to want to throw it all in one place. Then you start losing sight of well what’s the core here? What’s really required? And then get locked in a way that you don’t have that flexibility like you said Ellen to be able to adjust and tweak the procedure the putting in to practice piece of it. I’m inclined to say all of our policy should be no more than one page.

Jane: I think it’s helpful too to always keep in our heads that we’re really talking about the proverbial three legged stool; one leg is policy language, one leg is the procedural support for that, that’s how you make a policy real and the third thing is the training piece to the ways in which everybody comes to know what is in there. Maybe it’s a four legged stool the fourth one is that how you communicate to different audiences, so what do parents use in the center need to know. Do they need that exact whole policy and procedure document probably not?

Ellen: I don’t think the parent should have one that says what you’re going to do if staff comes drinking to the center, I mean It’s not that they can’t have access to that if they don’t want to sue you if want of your staff people was drunk. I don’t think it’s something that you pass out. You really keep your personnel type policies separate from things like that.

Beth: We’ve received a couple of email questions. Several of them all related to getting approval from OVW for your policies and so I think what these messages mean is people are thinking we may be needing some work in some of our policies and now what do we do with OVW so just a reminder that OVW does need to approve your policies so if you significantly change them then they need to know that. So that was the question, several questions asking somewhat of the same thing.

Ellen: Let me say this OVW is not requiring this thing that we’re saying right now. Like I’ve read a lot of OVW approved policies that some of these ones that you’re seeing right here are criticizing are so you don’t have to make this distinction yet in OVW policies but I think this whole thing that we’ve just given you is a…it’s a training piece that we’ve developed for OVW on writing policies and I think there’s a move in this direction in the future so as your writing new policies if you follow a lot of these things where your saying that you’re going to be in pretty good shape. They’re not going to say to you Oh my God come and look at that you’ve got procedures in with your policies you are dead meat. They’re more interested in the content and you following the principles and are you really protective of the adult and child victims that are what they are looking for in their critique of policies right now. They are not going with more of these technical things we’re saying on how to lay them out and how to write them accurately, they are trying to get to the core just the basics right now, do your policies really protect adult victims and children give equal regard, etc. Would you say that’s true Beth?

Ellen: They might eventually go foward once they develop a model policy then you’ll be able to see a layout of the policies more in line with what we’re saying here. I don’t want people to look at your policies and panic because you’re policies won’t match this thing we’re saying. If they’re protective of adult and children victims, if they fit your special conditions, if they go along with the six principles of OVW then you’re going to be in pretty good shape.

Jane: You’ve got a policy in place and you want to step back and say how do we try to make sure that this isn’t something that’s going to end up being more harmful than helpful? That’s going to run counter to those guiding principles that we’re trying to make real through the policies that we’re developing. So this is an adaptation of some work that Ellen and Coral MacDonald did a few years ago around developing policies and protocols and it’s a guide to sitting down and taking a piece of policy, reading it over and asking for example, number one, does this policy anticipate how batterers might circumvent its intent and find ways to use the policy against victims and asking well what do we have here? Is it on track to help our center address the complexities of who people are and their circumstances? And create that opposing experiencing the battering to provide that equal regard for safety if not, how might this be a problem of what do we need to look closer at? My hunch would be in many cases it’s maybe, we don’t quite know yet and what additional information do we need. For example, we’ve been talking a lot and some of our policy examples are about this very tight arrival and departure, defining a number of minutes and then taking a look at how that might work in ways that make it easier perhaps for someone who’s battering to make use of that. We talked about how that works differently if the visiting parent is actually the person who’s being harmed and how that tight framework around those categories of custodial and non-custodial can make that look very different…

Ellen: For example if you have a hard and fast rule that says ten minutes late such and such will happen that can be used by a batterer against than someone that’s brining the kids in and she has three kids and she’s trying to get them on the bus across town and she’s late and he can say look you disobeyed these rules, is that what you’re talking about?

Jane: That could be one example of it. Where that rule then if it’s coupled with and we always report this information ends up making her look like the irresponsible parent who’s violating the rules of the center, etc. But also in who has access to again that notion of keeping parents apart and how that can be maneuvered at different times. Another example I hear bumping down to the second one and anticipating how it might be used against victims of battering by other interveners, we haven’t talked a lot about how the information goes out in documentation and reporting it’s another one of those feathered giant topics but going back to our sample policies and this language about children refusing to visit and this automatic report to the court being made and again there’s the question of what you have in place around that collaborative but how can that also then be used in ways that weren’t anticipated than weren’t intended. So laying out here a series of questions to ask and explore about policy and is this what we really intend and how might this not work.

Ellen: I just want to give out a word of sympathy to everyone, I realized that writing these things don’t make it into a chore just think you’ve time it’s not like you got to re-write all your policies instantly but if you can just take a segment at a time and start working on them to get them to be more precisely what you want and more reflective of who you are, what your principles are and things like that. I think you shouldn’t try to take on the whole thing all at once but just take an area of policy development work on it and then move on to another area. I do think that you’re getting a lot of good advice from us on how to do it, you’re not getting any good samples and so that’s something we will talk to OVW we just need to have at least four like a policy on child refusal or a policy on you know if were just to pick three or four policy areas and really good model policies I think it would be a huge impact on everybody, OK that’s how you put this all together in one column. I think we will definitely talk to OVW about getting something like that out sometime in the next; I’m not even going to say how long.

Beth: Don’t put a time frame on this. Till this day as a result of these calls I’ve been getting a lot of calls from grantees to ask for some specific help and talk through and brainstorm together and I have been working with a number of development grantees on their entire policy and getting ready to submit and open their doors. I just wanted to remind everyone on the call that you’re not alone; the purpose of TA is to be here to support you. So you could contact me at any time, I can either help you or get you hooked up with a resource, I can get you some things to think about or we can spend some time talking. So contact me anytime and to know that this is a daunting task that feels very overwhelming and we know that and we’re here to support you. Please do use technical assistance as often as you want, I’m here. I’ll support you in any way I can.

I really want to express my sincere thanks to Ellen and Jane for taking the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to do this with us. We really appreciate it, we appreciate your intelligence and your smartness around all of this, so thank you for doing that. Thank you to all of you for taking time out of your day to listen to all of these calls in an on-going way, thank you for putting in your feedback

Ellen: Thanks everyone, thanks Jane.