Judge Victor Reyes: When you look at visitation you looking at visitation through domestic cases, the divorce cases, you're looking at visitation through the child custody cases. There may be some states that you enter visitation orders through protection order cases. Some jurisdictions are very limited. Then there are other orders that are entered in criminal cases.
I do felony criminal cases, which involve DV, and I've entered issues related to visitation and contact through the restraining orders, and sometimes think about using the visitation center as it relates to actual contacts and visits and also collaborating with the domestic courts in setting up criminal orders on probation or contact that are consistent with the domestic orders.
One thing you have to really believe, and one thing that I've learned in meeting judges from all across this country, is that people really want to do the right thing. Sometimes when you come into court and you are like, "How's that judge making that decision," "Why are they doing this," or "why are they doing that," well sometimes it's because they are lacking information and they don't know where to get that information from. Sometimes, and a lot of times, they are actually lacking education.
I mean, when I started off practicing law 20 years ago, judges called balls and strikes and that was it. That was how you made your decisions. I listened to the evidence, I make my decision, and we go on our way. But, as society has changed, the role of the courts have changed.
One of the things that we hear a lot about now are problem solving courts, and with problem solving courts you are actually dealing with some very serious issues and it is almost that you take a different focus where you are looking at now preserving victim safety, victim autonomy, and all those issues are being raised, and a judge's responsibility is to keep people safe. It is just not to call balls and strikes. And, to keep victims safe and to keep children safe.
The other thing that judges can do is once they do enter an order, there are mechanisms to enforce it. So long as the orders are such that they don't create confusion, for instance one of the things we do in our jurisdiction is, even in the domestic cases, order batterer treatment programs if there is domestic violence and limit visitation until those treatment programs are provided. If people decide not to do it, it may not necessarily be a situation where they go to jail because of it, like in a criminal case, but they are not going to be seeing their children like they want to see them, and that is of course a very big motivator.
The guilding principles themselves indicate that it has got to be a community collaboration. Judges alone cannot be responsible for safety. It is the responsibility of the community, and that is why when this process was being developed, we looked at the issue of collaboration. When you deal with collaboration, you've got two types of entities that you are working with, you are working with core partnerships and the core partnerships that are required by law are courts, a community based non-profit, a governmental component, and a non-governmental DV or sexual assault organization. So there's four partners.
Jennifer Rose: For those of you who aren't funded through OVW or are not familiar with the requirements of OVW, this core partnership is mandatory. So, in order to receive funding you must have brought these four entities together to move forward and get your money. And, really it's about a meaningful relationship with these core partners, and what we've learned along the way is that we cannot be successful without all of these different players involved. Like the judge said, the courts can't maintain safety in and of themselves, visitation centers cannot by themselves in isolation create safety for families, for women and children, domestic violence advocates, we cannot create safety by ourselves, and the unit of government is not just a pass-through, it's really important that that unit of government has a really significant, meaningful role. They have to know that they are advocates, they are the ones going to the legislature, they are the ones to help get the word out and bring sort of a powerful voice behind the need for these services. So, they are not just arbitrary, and we all build collaborations for lots of different reasons, and they are hard, and they are hard work. OVW is really intentional in thinking about how we make this the most successful and thinking about how we create safety for families, and by bringing these partners together their hope was that it would help together create as much safety as we can.
Judge Victor Reyes: And the key is meaningful; it is not just somebody signing a line on a memo. You've got to develop, through communication, the partnerships.
Jennifer Rose: The aim of this principal is to ensure a holistic response. Ultimately, we are all here because we want to stop abuse against women and children. I think always remembering that, and I think that is true for any collaboration, is when we come together we are all sitting at the table not because we want other people to get hurt or that we want to harm others, but we all come with a really good sense of wanting to create safety. And, I think that always starting from that place helps to build a strong collaboration; knowing we may have our limitations, we may have sort of the guidelines and the rules and administrative practices that guide what we do. Those are important to know. Ultimately, no one, not a judge, a visitation center, an advocate, or anyone who is coming to this table wanting safety in our community is coming for bad reasons, even though sometimes we don't always make the best choices, and ultimately to eliminate the social conditions that cause intimate partner violence. Those are the reasons why OVW really believes this collaboration coming together can help create change in our community. Most importantly, the reason we are coming together is to create safety.
So, as a tool to bring people together, always start from that part, not because I want something from you or you want something from me, but the reason we do our work in this field in particular is around creating safety for adult victims and their children. Our work as a collaboration enhances all of the different practices. A strong visitation center and a strong advocacy program working with the courts creates more safety. We help one another. Not one of us has all of the expertise to do it all. So, for example, I think in terms of child development, the courts may have a basic understanding, but they may not know it all. They rely on visitation centers, they rely on the community partners who have that expertise to help give them that information to make the best choices.
So, I think when we better understand that part, we are not expecting everyone to know all of the different pieces, but we know that when we come together all of the pieces will be accounted for, so we can help provide that information. If there is not a strong collaboration, there is not a venue for that information to be exchanged. So when we come together and there's an openness that we are not all experts and we do rely on one another to do our work best, that helps to open these doors to better educate and inform all of us that are working together to create safety for women and children. Collaboration helps build sustainability.
Champions are important, but the way we institutionalize that work is essential because that is the way that we maintain our work. In times like this when we are all struggling financially, with strong collaborations we figure out creatively how to keep working together, how to keep one another going in the best way possible, but if we are working in isolation it is real easy to just fall apart because we don't have the support that we need to make it work. Collaboration also helps to hold each other accountable and that can be really difficult.
I really want to stay this thing like judges are that, but I think, I know as an advocate when I was a young advocate when I was sent to that first meeting with the judges and I was young, I was really intimidated, and I felt like I had no power, and I couldn't speak up, and I saw the judge as this big figure that I couldn't challenge or I couldn't say things to, and that may not be true for everyone, but it is true for a lot of us. I think once I started to develop relationships with our local judges, as we started coming together in greater partnerships, of course there is always going to be some sort of power dynamic, but it helped to lessen that power dynamic and we were able to learn from one another and work better, and I saw judges as someone I could approach, who I could figure out how to pull together a small meeting to talk about the issues. I learned the limitations what could and could not be talked about, and I stayed really clear about the conversations that could happen; and, we had those conversations, and it helped to build those relationships, and it helped to build accountability so that I could say, "Hey, you know, this thing keeps happening, can we look at it, can we explore it together to figure out how to keep building safety, because I know that's why you do what you do, and that's why I'm here as well." And so, these collaborations help us to call each other on these things that are changing, and it's all fluid, it is a constant process we're always learning.
When I started doing this work, I think I thought I knew a lot, and the longer I do it, 20 years, I feel like I know nothing. Every day I feel like I know less and less because there is so much that is new, everything's unique, every life experience is different and once we can get that we can start coming together in a really good way and both continue to move forward and to hold each other accountable so that we are doing the best we can for families.
This is kind of collaboration 101, but it's a really important piece that when we come together we recognize what is the role of each partner, what is the role in the collaboration, and the role of collaboration itself. To ensure effective and efficient services when we come together, we can do that. To provide services that reflect an understanding of domestic violence. We're not all experts on domestic violence, and we can't be, but as a collaboration we can have a wealth of expertise that helps to guide our work.
Understanding philosophy and policies of the supervised visitation and safe exchange programs. I think that's probably the biggest mystery in this room in a lot of ways even though many of us are supervised visitation programs. I don't think we totally understand as partners those roles and responsibilities. When we come together we can have a better understanding and expectation. The judge was saying, things around scheduling, hours of operation, what a center can and cannot do, what a center should or should not do, and I think the more we understand that as a collaboration and as a partnership the better we can work together.
Judge Victor Reyes: And if you have the courts involved from the very beginning, from the planning, they will totally understand why the policy is the way it is. It is not like all of a sudden something appears and you don't understand it. You've actually helped develop it. The courts have been involved; they helped develop it, they understand what the policies are, and they understand the purpose of the policy. That's why it is essential, like you have been doing with your planning committee, to get the judges in there and actually help create some of the policies for that center. Judge's personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict, because that is what everybody's thinking about is, I know in Wisconsin, correct me if I'm wrong, but I know that in criminal cases you can get recused just because somebody says, "I don't want to be in your court" you have like a right of one recusal. You always have to maintain, for the public, that appearance of impartiality. But, then when you read the rule you have got to read the comment, because the comment on the rule is what is key here. So, it says, "Judges are uniquely qualified to engage in extrajudicial activities that concern the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, by speaking, writing, teaching, or participating in scholarly research projects, and they are encouraged to engage in educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic extrajudicial activities not conducted for profit." This is your judge's "in" to sit on your committees. So, as long as it has to do with the administration of justice, and a lot of folks don't know that, a lot of judges their first thing is "well I can't do that, it's an extrajudicial thing, I really can't be involved." That's not correct. Under the ABA model code, you almost have a responsibility, an ethical responsibility to get involved as it relates to this. You're going to get challenged, but this is what the rule says. So, when you do have a situation with a judge that says that I can't get involved, no you can under these circumstances. You have a duty to get involved.
Jennifer Rose: We want to sort of want to break the silos and see this as a community effort and that each of these partners work together to enhance safety for adult victims and their children. Not one of us can do it independently; we have to do it in partnership with one another. So when we come together, we are not just pointing fingers at each other "you're not doing this" or "you're not doing that." If this got better, everything would change because one thing wouldn't change the entire community's response. I think that part of this is how we are putting supervised visitation into the larger community response to domestic violence.
I would say a lot of judges are engaged around child abuse and neglect and may get involved in issues pertaining to child abuse and neglect and a lot of us saw challenges when we were taking up visitation in particular that centralized safety not just for children but for adult victims as well, that we were getting some push back from our courts around involvement and that it changed the game a little bit. So, what we are really trying to do is bring visitation into this larger scope so that we are working together in a way that we haven't historically worked together. These partnerships are new, although some communities have been working together, courts, visitation centers, domestic violence programs, for a long time. I don't want to take any credit away from folks who have been doing this long before OVW started funding centers. But the majority of us weren't, and many of us still aren't and we're trying to figure out how to do it in a good way.
I think that as we bring visitation into this larger response that the questions get a little more complicated because we are asking people to look at it differently and so that's part of why this collaboration is so essential and why each partner is imperative for us to really create the changes that we are trying to create. Although it is making some of us really uncomfortable, I think that ultimately coming to the table to create and enhance safety for adult victims and their children is a really important goal and that working together will help us to get to that end.