Beth: Hello everybody and welcome to today’s audio conference training on documentation, confidentiality, and record keeping in supervised visitation centers offered by the Office on Violence Against Women in partnership with Praxis International. Today is the first session of our three part series. As a regular disclaimer I wanted to remind folks that this training is presented by Praxis International and while we are supported by OVW as a TA provider for this grant program and we try to stay in line with OVW and the other TA providers we are not speaking for them. The points of view presented on this call are those of the speaker and/or Praxis International and do not necessarily reflect those of OVW. Today’s session is called documentation dilemmas, and as we know, all of you know very well probably, that documentation and supervised visitation can be very complicated and fraught with risk and safety for victims and their children and it is an on-going challenge for supervised visitation centers. So, I am so glad that you have joined up today. We have the honor of saying that we have two amazing women with us today, Jane Sadusky, has been working to end violence against women for the past 30 years. She has been working with the supervised visitation grant program initiative since 2002 and documentation and the dilemmas that accompany it are among many of the areas of exploration that Jane has done in the Supervised Visitation field. We are very happy to have Jane with us today. We also have Tracy Parker. Tracy has graciously offered to be on our call today to offer a practice perspective through our training call today. For those of you who had had the opportunity to meet Tracy, you know how much knowledge and passion and how much really smart thinking Tracy has and carries with her around this work. So we are also very happy to have Tracy with us today. Tracy is the program coordinator at a site in Kent, WA. She has been the program coordinator since the center opened in 2005. She has had a wealth of experience in both planning before the center opened and then as she moved through that process of providing services. So thank you to both Tracy and Jane. I am going to hand the baton over to Jane now and she is going to take away our training for today.
Jane: Thank you Beth. Working with the demonstration initiative sites which include Kent, Chicago, Michigan, and the Bay Area, CA was this amazing experience and we have spent a lot of time chewing over these questions around documentation and all of its intricacies and aspects. So, a good share of what we provide this afternoon will be very much drawing from that experience. I wanted to start with a bit of an example though. One of the experiences I had in Kent, was sitting in on protection order court for a day or two. In King County, they videotape those protection orders and also family court motions. So, one day I sat in and I got the perspective of the petitioner sitting in the courtroom. Later I got the video tape from those same sessions. It was amazing because I got to watch it from the perspective of the bench, more than the petitioner sitting in the audience. And, one of the things that struck me was the court is dealing with these mountains of paper. Some of these family motions would be six, 10, 12 inches of paper in front of a judge or court official who you can tell is really struggling to make a decision, and make a decision that is going to be safe, but is struggling very much with even finding the information that might be useful. So, part of that is this piece of documentation and thinking about what information is carried to the court, to the user of this documentation, and is it related to the safety and protection and the concern that the court has and that we all have for peoples safety.
So, let’s start with this example. This is a report to the court involving Amanda Moore, who is the petitioner and the custodial parent and Joe Brown who is the respondent and the visiting parent. There are two children, Joe Jr. is six years old and his sister Jill is four years old. Date visitation started: February 3, 2004. So this report is coming approximately four months later. There have been approximately 15 visits. The visits were scheduled for one hour each week. Punctuality: Mom did not show up to the first scheduled visit. When the center called her, she expressed she forgot about the visit and was apologetic. On May 6, mom’s friend dropped the children off 10 minutes late, on June 6, mom was 5 minutes late for visitation. On February 17th, dad was 15 minutes late for visitation. He expressed that his lawyer told him to start visits on March 1, however he wanted to see his children and arrived late to the visit. On April 15, dad called and said he would be 10 minutes late because he was picking up his son Charles, to visit with Joe Jr. and Jill. Compliance: Dad complied with all rules of visitation. However, mom was advised on May 13, that her friend Mr. Smith, was not to drop the children off for visitation in light of the restraining order against Mr. Smith. On May 20, dad called police to the center and explained the restraining order. The police asked for the May 13th letter to be faxed to them. The center faxed the letter the same day to Officer Pine’s attention. Observation: Mr. Brown interacts with his children playing board games and outside play. Jill enjoys putting her head on dad’s shoulder and hugging him as dad walks around holding her during visits. Dad brought his son Charles to six visits and Joe Jr. and Jill were happy to see him and enjoyed playing with him. Dad was very loving, caring and attentive to all his children during supervised visits. Also Mr. Brown always displayed a positive attitude during his weekly visits with his children.
Now, I want to turn to Tracy and ask Tracy, you have now been with a center for five years. What kind of questions does this particular example of documentation raise for you?
Tracy: Well, it is painting a very cheery picture on behalf of the dad. I would want to know what was happening. For me, there are a couple places where there are gaps in information, particularly where it is going over the punctuality piece. Where it is talking about how he was not supposed to start until 3/1 and for some reason they started earlier, and she was late all of those times before then, so what is that about. Was there something that was supposed to be happening and some reason she couldn’t get there on time during that. I also want to know more about this restraining order and why is he calling the police to the center. And, the restraining order is against her friend and what that has to do with the visitation and the kids getting to the center. It also doesn’t tell me anything about why they got there, I don’t have any sense of why they were referred – did they come through a protection order process, did they come through a custody action? I don’t know what we are watching for in this scenario.
Jane: We hear so little about what the report omitted. And I think it speaks to some of the points you have made about gaps in information and exactly why is this family here and what is going on. One of the things that it doesn’t note is the reason for supervised visitation. In this case, Mr. Brown had been arrested on domestic violence related charges four times in the six months prior to the visitation order. One arrest was for assaulting the custodial parent, Amanda Moore, as well as a burglary to the residence. Three of the arrests were for violations of the restraining order. As a result of this, he was on probation. So, one piece that is not there is the reason for the visitation. Particularly here you have a pattern of escalating violence and repeated violations of restraining orders, both of which should signal and put everyone on alert that this may be a far more risky situation than you might have assumed. When you look at other material you find that, that doesn’t support the statement that dad complied with all of the rules. In fact he had a pattern of arriving early and parking in ways so he could monitor and see when the children arrived and with whom, and he has also been bringing his older son who is not authorized to visit, either via the court order or via permission from the mother, so there is a bit of the center setting aside some of its rules in this case. Another piece of the bigger picture that is not evident here is you have parent who seems to be trying to engage the center to help reinforce a measure of control over the children’s mother. So he is repeatedly making his presence known and sending the message that he knows who is coming and going and monitoring those activities. He tries to draw the police in as well around the restraining order, which the center never does any independent verification of. There is not a copy in the file; there is no indication that there is any verification that there is any prohibition to prevent this Mr. Smith from bringing the children. Often times mothers who are being battered have an interest in wherever possible, of having someone else bring the children to the center. Finally, there is this context piece missing to provide a disclaimer of sorts that the behavior that is described in this very artificial supervised setting and isn’t necessarily to infer or mean that this kind of behavior would continue in an unsupervised setting. So, we have this example of one piece of documentation that’s raising many questions about how is this linked to this larger purpose of safety and protection and equal regard for safety.
One of the things that we are presenting here today, and I know that we are always eager to get the list of if you do exactly this, 1-2-3-4-5, you will be able to put in place a documentation system that will work seamlessly and relatively headache free. Unfortunately that certainly wasn’t the experience of the demonstration sites. In actual practice to provide something that is more dynamic and that we keep coming back to and making sure that it is meeting the purposes of what we want it to, we are instead providing a foundation. Now, we are going to wrap up with some specific practice tips so for those of you who are going, “but I really want to know what I should do and how to do it,” here will be some things to think about there. But we are going to really focus first on this idea of foundations for thinking about documentation. If you are one of the planning grantees, and in the midst of setting this up, there are things that can be helpful and guidelines for thinking about how to do that. For centers that are operating it is a way to step back and say “well what do we have going on here and how does it rest or not rest on these foundations.” But before we get into that thought, I want to switch back to Tracy here, and start getting a sense of, what has been most challenging to your center in establishing its documentation practices.
Tracy: Oh gosh, I think just getting over our own fear of how information might be used or misused and getting really clear around why we are documenting and what is the purpose of our documentation? So how are we going to say things in way that is as objective as we can be and still account for the battery. We are really careful here, we have worked on this really hard, and nothing comes out of this center without full staff discussion and engagement. That takes time. We have to talk these things out…we look at; what is the point of this, are we just angry at this family right now, are we documenting something because we want to get them, or are we documenting because we are trying to demonstrate that the battering is still happening and how to best do that in a way the court or anybody else can understand it. So, trying to educate through our documentation is really hard. Because, if we just write something like, on this example that you have read, we would never address punctuality like that. For instance, we would never have anything that said Mr. Smith is bringing the children, because the children got to the center, it doesn’t matter how they got there. We just have to think through how can any of this stuff be used against the victim parent, when we are getting the sense that something is off we have to figure out a way to address that in our documentation, that makes sense and doesn’t sound like we are exaggerating and crazy. So yes, it is all challenging, but the most difficult would be trying to stay objective and to paint the picture of battering when we need to, also separating out parenting stuff from battering.
Jane: And, why have you paid attending to that?
Tracy: We are not here for parenting. We are here because there is a safety risk for the adult as well as the children, and so, parenting can look great in a visit here, it has nothing to do with anything. So really our documentation here, the visit documentation is pretty benign, they are just a list of whether or not we intervened. There might be some expansion on something if we had to really talk to somebody after the visit about some specific thing. But our documentation is more about the stuff that is happening in between the visits. How is the schedule being used to continue battering? If we can’t get the survivor to come in, we need to figure out how to talk to her in a way that makes sense and to tell her the possible consequences of not coming in and still let her know that we are not here to enforce orders, we are here to keep everybody safe. So we are just always checking back with each other around that. That is our goal; the reason families come here is because there is a history of domestic violence. So, that has to be kept at the forefront. We are not doing reunification or child welfare or anything like that.
Jane: I think you made a really good point, that is where things can get kind of muddled up because if we come with that one set of assumptions that it is about whether this person can communicate with their child and spend time with them and we need to make sure that day-to-day parenting is safe, that is one direction. But, if it is to be paying attending to equal regard for safety in the context of domestic violence, then that is a different lens within which to be looking at things and developing.
One thing that might be one of our first practice tips that we should take note of, staff communication and cohesion is central to sound documentation. And you have experienced that?
Tracy: Yes, we are very clear even on everything that goes out; it says that all documentation is on staff consensus and it is not based on one person’s opinions. It never says the visit monitor said that he did this. It says that as staff, we all pay attention when something is going on. For instance, if you are saying in the background of this case that he was parking somewhere odd that would be a staff discussion and it would be so noted as a staff concern about potential stalking behaviors. What is going on? How did he know about Mr. Smith? It gives us the room to say “Here is what we are concerned about, we may be incorrect, but this is what is coming up for us as we are serving this family.”
Jane: So it is not a staff member, observing a visit, checking things off on a form, filing it away, and then never having any discussion or review about what information has now gone into what becomes part of the official story of this family’s experience?
And even our observation form that we have is a checklist and it is only an intervention; it is not anything other than that. Even that has a little blurb written in it to remind staff that we are documenting battering. It might be something benign but we think we should intervene, but if it is not something that is significant, or it doesn’t look like it could be battering, then we think about that, it’s not just this kind of make your checklist and put it away. We discuss it. We have weekly consults and we discuss every family we are serving and where they are at and how things are going and any on-going safety or scheduling problems.
Jane: The whole discussion of documentation is so intertwined with confidentiality and information sharing. Which certainly begins with, the visits, the observations, but it really begins with that very first contact and orientation and looking at what are we asking from people, how are we gathering information, where and how do we do that, how do we keep it, is there information that needs to be inaccessible to anything other than a subpoena, all of those kinds of questions go into the mix there. And, certainly there is a continuum of approaches to documentation.
So, we have laid out the seven key foundations as things to think about in pulling together documentation. I am going to go through them and there is a couple of them that we are going to talk about in a little more detail, but I want to make sure that we can give this overview and then also get into the practice considerations as well. At one level I think these foundations are also practice considerations because there is not necessarily this fine distinct bright line between setting a foundation for a policy and the way it’s implemented in practice.
So, first on this list, and this ties very much back to the Guiding Principles, is to build documentation on an equal regard for safety. And that means really understanding battering and understanding distinctions between battering and other forms of domestic violence. We tend to throw everything in that big bucket labeled domestic violence but if there is one thing that has become so very clear in the 30 or so years of current work on this issue is that it’s not all the same.
It is to begin with a guided reading of the centers files. That is gathering up a sample of the case files and doing a very specific and deliberate reading and analysis of them. Now, Tracy I know we did this in Kent. In fact I can still picture sitting in your conference room with those files, with a variety of people reading through them and seeing what we could glean from them. Can you talk a bit more how you used that and what you got from it?
Tracy: First thing I learned is it is really hard to redact things. So the less places I put names and identifiers the better. So that changed a lot in how we document. For the longest time we referred them as CP or VP custodial parent vs. visiting parent all throughout our documentation. Now we have switched that to mother and father because we realized that is what they read in the court from family court services assessment. They refer to them as mother and father, so we thought it would be easier for everybody involved if that is what it said.
We ended up adding an intake summary into the file. Where after I do the intakes I would pull what both parties told me, if they both told me something I would pull that in. It might say, our goal on this was that if the court gets this file there is a page right there at the very beginning that reminds the court why they got ordered to supervised visitation. So, it says there is a protection order or a criminal no contact order pending trial, it would say ordered to safe havens via protection court, protection order process, protection order filed after incident where father allegedly strangled mother, dv charges pending. Or it might say, if it is a visiting mother but she is the battered women it will say that father has a history of domestic violence, there has been three protection orders in the past. It will remind folks that the reason why they are here is because of domestic violence. Then we started adding in the whole intake process. So from the very first time they call us the battering starts. The way they use us is battering, we become part of it instantly. So now we write, she contacted us on March 3rd, first contact from him was not until June 7th. We tried to call her at that point her number was no longer active. We are waiting for her to call back. We are documenting if he is calling us daily and trying to get a letter saying she is not contacting us. When it is saying how difficult it is to get the first visit started because he wouldn’t accept any appointments that we offered. So, now that is all included on this up front piece before you get any further in the file. And I think that has helped us a lot. Now even when staff comes in and just want to take a quick look at the family to remember what is going on, that is right there up front. Then they will go back and look deeper if they need more information. So I learned a lot from just really digging through and thinking if I had to show these to people that were looking for information what would they know?
Carrie: This question comes from Lana. Lana the line is open.
Lana: Hi, I am working over here at CASA and we have a question. Specifically what should be documented during a supervised parenting time?
Tracy: I don’t know if there is a specific what should be documented. For us we are documenting if we had to intervene during the actual visit and then our other documentation is about between visits; what has the communication been like, what have been the problems we are having? If somebody calls me an asshole and hangs the phone up that is going in the file if that is a consistent behavior. Now, we might not document that if that was just one-time somebody went off and it doesn’t feel like an on-going tactic or a way of abusing us or anything like that. We are always trying to think about what is the purpose of what we are writing. If we documented we had to intervene four times because the visiting parent continued to ask the child what church they are going to, or despite being redirected continued with the same stuff, that would be documented and it would say how many times we documented. But, we are minimalist, we are not putting a whole lot, we might put a little reminder in there asking about church so we can talk to him later about that particular thing. But then it would be a more of a staff discussion if we felt it was an on-going concern and then that would be documented as staff discussion.
Jane: Part of the foundation of getting there and figuring out what we put in place and how, is that recognition that there is not necessarily a single recipe or single formula but it has several pieces, several tips that help shape that and part of that is focusing on how do we engage with mothers and fathers and children using the center, rather than building mammoth files. In stepping back and asking questions, what do we record during an observation for example, stepping back and saying, who is at risk and how is this related to the control and threat of one adult parent toward another where visitation is a setting where it is going to be safer to have children coming back and forth to, why are we writing this down, why do we need this information? Tracy provided that example. One of the things we realized was that we needed an intake summary so that right on the front end before any other information, it was clear why is this family at the visitation center. What is the reason and the context for our intervention? Who benefits from what we write down? We go back to that opening example where you have a lot of information about parenting, relationships, and interactions and one child hugging her father and bringing another son to visit and the children being happy about that. Which is all very good, but the ways in which that information can be used out of the context of, why is this family at the center? Well here is someone who has been engaging in stalking behavior, who has broken into his wife’s residence, has had four domestic violence arrests in the last four months, who is repeatedly violating restraining orders, that is a bigger, much bigger piece of the picture that goes missing unless the focus is looking at who is doing what to whom and with what impact. Now, Lana, this may or may not be helpful. We hope it is helpful.
Lana: Yes that was our primary question, just knowing documentation or not.
Jane: Are you planning your center or have you started providing your services?
Lana: Yes we have been in operation for about five years. There are five of us here listening in. And it is to go over, as far as our documentation piece during supervised visits, what are the best practices.
Tracy: We don’t put anything about what they did during the visit unless there was something going on of concern.
Lana: So the best practice right now, is parenting time occurred unless there is a rule violation.
Tracy: It is tricky because it comes down to your philosophy and how you want to frame everything. We have worked really hard with the courts to say that just because something didn’t happen during a visit doesn’t indicate anything regarding the safety outside the center. So we have worked really hard in our collaboration that the court should not be expecting assessments from us. That is our philosophical standing. Our assessments are…it is too superficial of a setting, we have been very clear about our guidelines and somebody should really be able to come for an hour and do fine with their kids. So, for us it is more about, okay what is happening outside of that hour. When this guy is trying to, for instance, tell us all what is going on with her new partner every chance he gets, or he keeps coming consistently later and later, or he is telling another guy in the waiting room to join this father’s rights group. Those kinds of things are what we are paying more attention to, it may not always be in the documentation but the staff is always aware of them. So there isn’t really a simple answer, but you need to get really clear on what you are writing.
Lana: Okay, thank you.
Beth: I just want to say that one of the helpful pieces to ground your discussion is to have a staff discussion of why you exist in the first place, what is your mission and the purpose of your organization. That should be able to guide you in making decisions then about what you are paying attention to. Many programs who have been in operation before they have been a supervised visitation grantee may still continue to provide services to other families who have other reason for referral beyond domestic violence. To frame up our conversation we are exclusively talking about families who come to supervised visitation for safety, because of battering. If that is what you are talking about then ask yourself is this why we exist, provide safety, and that should provide the framework for your discussion for how you make that determination.
Jane: I think in addition to that discussion on role I think this is where this guided reading of the files can also be very helpful. You step back and you gather up some examples and you ask a series of questions. This is something that I think we could provide a guideline on how to do this, but you are stepping back and saying from this record can we tell who needs protection, can we tell whose safety is at stake, how does the file, the official story, account for or describe domestic violence, how does it account for or describe battering. We have been using this term, and by battering we’re meaning that ongoing coercion and control that is distinctive for its effort of one person to dominate and coerce. The lethality factor is much more present in that kind of action and behavior. How does this file account for signs of continued abuse and victimizations? The examples that Tracy was giving about how do we make a record where we are getting these behaviors of someone who is really trying to use the center as a means to continue the battering. Are we paying attention to it, what does that look like, should it look differently? Where does this information go? Does it go anywhere, who asks for it, who gets it, what action gets taken? So you take that step back look at how does our official story of this family’s experience at supervised visitation look, and is it showing an equal regard for safety in the way that supervised visitation would in domestic violence.
So, lets take our other questions and then we will go from that to checking in on the rest of our foundations.
Carrie: Our next question comes from Clinton, Clinton your line is open.
Clinton: Hi, I am speaking from CASA in Colorado Springs. When we are listening or even when our team is talking it seems very vague and there is not a cookie cutter formula, which I am starting to understand, it is starting to make sense. I realize that it is the culture and the personality of the center combined with the culture and the personality of our families. When I am listening in and I hear that we are recording on the needs of safety and then we are trying to look at the families we are serving we don’t see a great amount of domestic violence and this need for safety. It is more covert behavior, of one parent against the other or one parent trying to sabotage the other and we are as client coordinators trying to discern who is right, who is wrong, and keeping the child focused. So if we are dealing in that role, what advise can you give us in documenting the visiting parent, when the visiting parent is being covert or we aren’t hearing that the visiting parent is not making statements or comments or probing for information from the children and yet it is being reported back from the child, it is being reported back to the bringing parent, and then it is being brought to our attention. How do we report and document those issues?
Jane: And are you speaking of families that have been specifically sent to your center by the court because of some concern about domestic violence?
Clinton: Yes ma’am. They are probably being sent to us because of a restraining order, a temporary restraining order, or the courts have said “you need to make up your mind about this divorce case” and there may be some history of DV that has brought them in, that is one of the foundational reasons that has brought them in, but once they have been entered into our program we are just trying to provide a service so one party can see their child.
Jane: And what kind of information is coming from your referral source about the reason? Are you getting police reports if that has been part of it?
Clinton: No ma’am we are not getting police reports, it is just a court order into our program, and then we will ask the questions or do the survey about history of domestic violence.
Tracy: I think that the main thing if they are getting ordered, the main thing is remembering how you are being used. If there is a history of domestic violence, and they are ordered to you because of that you become a tool and even the best of us, my whole staff, all of us come from a DV background and we are a tool of the batterer. So start thinking about, how are you documenting, what are you documenting, what are your observations, what are they doing to benefit his ongoing battering. We do not look at ourselves as trying to assess, we listen to their stories and do very in depth intakes with each party. Asking in very simple questions, tell me how did you get here, what has been going on, what kind of things are you worried about? And from those questions you can get huge histories that aren’t documented anywhere, we might not have any background information on the family other than they have been ordered here. But they’ll tell you a lot even the batterer will tell you a lot just in having a very sincere and open conversation about their history.
Jane: I think that connects with one tip that I would put on the list which is that how you develop that beginning relationship with orientation, beginning relationship with the mothers and fathers who are using the center and I think it also connects actually with the number seven on this list of foundation which is establishing an ongoing dialogue on documentation and that’s staff talking with each other, it’s staff talking with parents, it’s the center talking with courts and it’s community partners and it’s referral sources about is there more information that should be coming your way to provide a clearer picture of why what is happening for a particular family who’s using the center. And to keep that kind of discussion going about that frame work again of what are we going to write down and who’s going to use it and where is it going to go and how is it going to potentially be misused? How can we use this detailed guided reading of our files to ask questions about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. There is no absolute single recipe or formula. Understanding your states legal framework and having a support of legal advice and support is another piece of it, particularly in terms of looking at where does information go and how does it get used and what do we have to release to whom and under what circumstances, another piece is looking at the impact of each documentation practice on our time and attention and resources. This is probably one of the things in reading lots, and lots, and lots of examples from lots of different centers that started to really strike me as being a piece of the picture it takes a tremendous amount of work to write down all of these details about they said, like every hiccup, now walk through door, child took off her coat, went to greet her father with a hug, got the candyland game out, sat down, and played the game for ten minutes, had an appropriate discussion about beef jerky, that’s a lot of energy and attention that goes into writing all this stuff down and you could be so focused on doing that you may be missing something that’s more coercive or really is an example of battering behavior. Certain looks, dynamics, can also produce these voluminous records, pages and pages, pages often hand written and usually something hand written is hard to read and the reality is people don’t read it and then this huge line of material in some cases being transferred to the courts who are overwhelmed and can’t make sense of it. So part of this foundation is looking at what are the implications of what we’ve structured on our time and attention resources? Another piece and this is a biggie and again it’s a subject on its own, stepping back and questioning our assumptions about being neutral and objective. Striving for accuracy might be perhaps a more useful goal and to being to paying attention to what is accurate in the information that is carried in the documentation and in that final tip about establishing an ongoing dialogue. Now before we wrap up though we want to talk about some of these considerations for practice. Tracy talked about starting with defining the role, why are we here? What’s our purpose as a supervised visitation program under these guiding principles that give a certain shape and meaning to things? The guiding principles by the way also have a practice section that addresses some aspects of documentation and some specific advice in that regard and that element of accountability. How does our role then shape what we do with respect to documentation? Here are some specific tips now for those of you who have been waiting for this; this is more or less best practice, these are organized around three key aspects of a centers work, orientation, observations, and then reports to the court. And they’re drawn both from the work that we’ve done with the demonstration initiatives; they’re also drawn from the guiding principles. So as we go through these think back to this opening example we started with because I think you’ll see where if these practice guidelines had been followed that report would have looked quite a bit different so under orientation keep information collected to a minimum; meet separately with the parties; and talk with them instead of relying on the forms they hand in. Tracy made this point about how much understanding you can develop by having a conversation with someone what are you most afraid of in bringing your children to the center. What has it been like for you going through this separation? Keeping separate files for each family member; keeping location and contact information in separate files that is not accessible to parties. This is where people are living, phone numbers, where children are going to school, the kinds of little things that in the context of battering can be sometimes lethal information. Keeping in mind that in that context of a person who is battering another is always looking for little bits of information to use to continue that ongoing coercion and control. Orientation should be really clear with people about the lack of confidentiality of information that’s collected or observed. I think we sometimes offer more then really exist. Tracy anything that you would add to this orientation list?
Tracy: Well yeah, I just think that when you’re talking with the batterer the same questions that you ask the survivor he’ll tell the same he’ll tell a really interesting perspective of it. So those conversations I just can’t emphasize enough that for me that’s more important than any other information I get actually, so it’s nice if somebody brings their court papers along with them but I don’t even read those until I after I’ve had really deep discussions with both parties.
I ask, tell me when was the time you were most afraid? And that often is not a time where there was an arrest. It’s often a totally different time and almost always comes along in that moment, I knew he would kill me. With the guys, I’ll just ask tell me what she’s going to tell me, and I just get a whole story and he’ll elaborate on things and they often will tell me more in that response than she’ll tell me, so I just think getting or just asking or even asking the mom you know what are you afraid of about using the program, you know what’s your concern? The stories that come out I’ll figure out what the battering looks like, was it more financial battering was it more sexual, what kind of things were going on in this relationship that are the hot buttons. Ok now, did you write all of that down? Or what do you do with it?
I kind of summarize it I come from a DV perspective of don’t write anything down because it’s dangerous so I summarize what I can. I keep my hand written notes until I have a full staff debrief on it and then those are shredded but in the actual file there will be a summary that these are her safety concerns, these are his.
Jane: It’s going back to staff communication and reviewing so then we have a lot of hand written things here until we discuss it and then we summarize what we think is relevant and what to get rid of. But the whole staff needs to know for instance if she feels that he’s following her out of here if we didn’t see him follow her out of here, we can’t, there’s nothing we can really do about that but the staff needs to know that, that’s what she’s afraid of right now.
I’m going to move on here to some considerations for practice under observations that day to day interaction and certainly where many, many, many, many pages have been written in many, many supervised visitations centers. So, considerations for practice, keep notes to a minimum, put a bold cautionary note on all forms and reports regarding the limits of the information; don’t focus on parent-child interaction unless it’s directly related to a safety concern or a critical incident; require subpoenas before responding to records requests, Tracy anything to add?
Tracy: I have to make sure it’s a valid subpoena.
Jane: And the final area, considerations for practice around reports to the court or referral source and here’s a bit of repetition but avoid including details about a client’s parenting children or custody and visitation arrangements unless it’s directly related to the reason for the referral and safety of the children and adult victims. And include an explanation of why the family was referred to the center; provide context through the information in the report.
Tracy: Yes, I think we’re a little radical in this, we don’t send anything to the court, everything to us goes through the parties and they are free to do with it what they please. That has spared us from being subpoenaed because we just give the information.
Jane: So, it all starts with that intake and orientation and explaining to people “this is what we do, this is how we approach our documentation, this is what’s available to you, this is how you can get it, there’s not going to be any surprise here, and you asked for this.”
Tracy: Yes, we are very upfront because there has been allegations of safety concerns. So we’re not here to assess whether those things are true or not we’re just going to always err on the side of caution and we want you to know that and if we are making a mistake please bring it to our attention, we will discuss it thoroughly, we do make mistakes but we’re always going to make the mistakes on the side of safety. I think just being transparent about what we’re doing helps a lot. We have a rule here, if you can’t say why you have a rule then you shouldn’t have the rule.
Jane: I realize we are just scratching the surface here. This is such a huge part of figuring out how your visitation center is going to do its work and we hope we’ve given you some ideas for setting a foundation and some more specific approaches. Keep up the hard work and keep taking advantage of the technical assistance that’s out there.
Beth: And also to remember that visitation centers shouldn’t be doing this alone or feeling like they are alone in this process. I want to thank Jane and Tracy for taking the time to be with us today and all of you who participated on the call we really appreciate it.