Michelle Dodge, J.D.: For people who are unfamiliar with the Supervised Visitation Grant Program, we're going to provide some information on the funding, what it is, some of the requirements of the grant program, and also talk to you about the technical assistance aspect that all of our grantees receive under the grant program.

Lori Crowder: My hope for this is that those of you who aren't current grantees or have not received OVW development grant funds before, you would get an opportunity to learn more what this is about and determine if it is really a right move for your community to apply for this grant program.

Michelle Dodge, J.D.: The Supervised Visitation Program was authorized under the Violence Against Women Act, actually VAWA 2 or VAWA 2000, and the initial appropriation that we had that came down was 15 million dollars, and the first awards under the grant program were in 2002.

The program started as a pilot program, which is very rare for our office. Usually, we just go ahead and do a grant program and we give awards, but the way the legislation was written it's interesting, there wasn't a lot written under the legislation, but it was as a pilot project which may have said that congress was on the fence about whether or not this was a needed service. What they did was they authorized it for two years and kind of said, "Go ahead, let's try, see what happens with this, then we will think about whether or not we will fully authorize it."

Because it was a pilot project and OVW didn't have a lot of information about supervised visitation in the context of domestic violence, we decided to do something a little bit different with this grant program. Usually, what we have people do is we just give out grant awards and we see what happens, or, depending on how much money there is, we do a demonstration initiative. We decided to do this as a joint demonstration initiative, and we gave out regular grant awards.

The initial grant awards we gave out were for people who already had visitation services they were implementing, and we gave out some awards that we called "planning" for people who had nothing, who had never done this work before. Then we gave out four awards that were large awards with a lot of technical assistance to the City of Chicago, City of Kent, Washington, Santa Clara County California, and the last one was the State of Michigan. Each one of these grant projects brought something different.

The State of Michigan, was a large project; how are people going to work together to do this. The City of Kent was a planning project, they had nothing in existence, they had actually tried to start visitation services prior to this grant program and they had a death in their community because of the visitation center, and after that the community lost all faith that they could keep families safe. The County of Santa Clara actually had a lot of different initiatives going through so they were probably the most senior project that we worked with. The City of Chicago was very multicultural; they had three centers involved, one of them serving the East Asian community, one of them serving the African American community, and one of them serving Latino families.

Each of the jurisdictions had something different to offer to the project. What started out as a three year initiative turned into a four or five year initiative because what we realized when we started all of this work is that we had no idea what we were doing. We were literally flying the plane while we were building it, we could see through to the bottom, we were hoping that what we were doing was not harming anybody, and we realized that we had a lot to learn. We had done some research in this area to see, and what we found was there weren't a lot of people who were providing visitation and exchange services for families involved with domestic violence.

As we started going through the initiative, we learned more, and we started coming out with promising practices. One of the things we realized is that people who were coming in as planning grantees and were just doing planning for two years were having a lot of trouble coming in and becoming implementation grantees. For some reason, it was taking them a lot longer to plan. We figured two years, $120,000.00. All you had to do for two years was planning, then at the end of that period you'd be able to have everything you needed for a center and you'd be ready to go. That wasn't working. People were coming back in to apply and nobody was getting refunded. We did a lot of work to figure out what the heck was going on. I'm not sure if we actually figured it out completely, but what we decided to do was we came to a compromise and we started issuing development grants, and that's where we are now.

Development grants are basically a hybrid of the initial grants. Anybody who is not a current grantee comes in for a development award regardless of whether or not you have visitation services. If you have no services, you take at least one year to plan, to develop, to sit down and form your collaboration, figure out what your policies and protocols are going to be, figure out what is it that your community needs in the way of visitation and exchange services, and hopefully at the end of 12 to 18 months you actually will be able to go ahead and begin services.

For people who are providing existing services, we ask that they take that 12 month period to figure out how those services can be changed to account for domestic violence. What is it that is needed within the services that you're currently providing to keep victims and their children safe? This is where many people are like, "We have been doing this for years; we only need about 30 days to get this going." People are finding that when they start collaborating and they start talking to their community workers and they start talking to families they're realizing that, "This is taking a lot longer than what we thought it would be, because there are all these things involved that we just never considered."

With a development initiative, part of the legislation that we had required that we have guiding principles. The legislation actually says that everybody who receives funding has to have policies and practices by which they are going to provide services. What we found out was that some people did have policies and practices, but a lot of people were just copying whatever their neighbor had. It was just really difficult because nobody had ever done this work with victims of domestic violence before. What we did was we began a project that was supposed to take two years, it took about three years, and we came up with a set of guiding principles that I talked about earlier that we are now requiring all our grantees to put in place when dealing with victims of domestic violence.

The good news about the program is that under VAWA 3, which passed recently, it's been authorized for 20 million dollars. The program purpose is to increase safety for victims and their children by increasing opportunities for supervised visitation and safe exchange in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. A lot of people here will say, "Why do you keep talking about domestic violence because the program purpose has a whole bunch of other areas." While grantees under the program can accept cases that fall into these categories, the expectation is that the majority of services will be for victims of domestic violence and the child abuse cases that are accepted will still be in the context of domestic violence.

The reason that we do that is, there's a purpose, it's not that we just don't think that child abuse is a big issue, what we know is that child abuse is a huge issue, and there's not enough funding for those cases either. If we allowed the money to exclusively be used for child abuse, adult victims would be knocked out because every department of human service, every child protection office would come knocking. They need supervised visitation services just as badly as victims do. After the first year, we saw that like 80% of the applications that we received were for services through child protective services. In order to figure out a way to make sure that adult victims were still getting the services they needed, there is a special condition that these funds cannot be used for children who are in the care of child protective services; they have to be in the custody of one or the other of their parents.

The program scope is defined by the statutory considerations. I keep saying this over and over, OVW has nothing to do with this, this is what congress set out, not us. All of the projects that we have funded must be grounded in the belief that domestic violence is a crime of power and control. A lot of people are like, "This is a no brainer." But, when we started the grant program, as I said, a lot of people thought domestic violence wasn't a huge issue. It's something that goes on between a man and a women, let's not worry about it, as long as the children are safe we're okay. We have worked really hard, and worked with our technical assistance providers and our grantees, to understand that this isn't about two parents who are in disagreement over an issue; this is really about one parent using coercive power over the other.

When we're looking at grants and we're trying to figure out what it is we are going to fund, we look at the number of families served, services to underserved populations, collaboration with non-profit and non-governmental DV and sexual assault agencies, and collaboration with state and local courts. In looking at the number of families served, we have had a lot of good projects come through, but if you are going to request $400,000.00 and you tell me you are going to serve 10 to 15 families a year, you, are probably not going to get funded. We have a lot of applications that do that, some programs cost more than others. We have to, especially now, justify to congress that we are making all efforts to make the most effective use of this grant money. There are some people in Kent who have come in with some excellent programs, I have seen some of the work, I have gone out there, but they're serving such a low number of families when their community has such a huge need that we can't justify it.

Services to underserved population, again, we want to see projects that are really making an effort to include everybody that's in their community. This is something again that shouldn't be that difficult, but for some reason when we are getting the reports coming in, people of color are just not getting services. People who don't speak English are not receiving services. This is what current grantees and people are really struggling to figure out, "What is it that we need to do within our community." It's a lot harder than what it seems.

A collaboration with a non-profit, non-governmental domestic violence or sexual assault entity. Collaboration is a lot more than just having them sign the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). All of our applications, come through internal review with OVW and then they go through a peer review process. I always tell people, it doesn't matter if I know you; I'm not going to be a peer reviewer. Peer reviewers, there are three people that sit on a panel, if they've seen the application or know somebody on the application they can't do this, they cannot read that application. So, they know nothing about the applicants that come in. All they know is what's in that application. You could be a great program, but if you are not saying that in the application or if you don't say that you, you know, served 150 families last year or you won an award from so-and-so, we're not going to know that. We're not going to look it up and Google you and see that, "Wow, you've got all this stuff going on."

One of the things that the peer reviewers look for is true collaboration. In finding true collaboration, they look to see how involved were all of the partners in the grant project, did you meet before or did you just decide, "I saw this last week, this is a great application, I really want us to do this, we'll figure out how we're going to do it later on." Are all of the partners being funded through the grant? Are you asking for $400,000.00 and $395,000.00 goes to the visitation center and maybe you will give $5,000.00 to the domestic violence partner to do some DV training. That's not really true collaboration. There have been times we've done site visits and we have gone over to the site and I've knocked on the door of the shelter said, "Hi, I'm from OVW and I'm here to do a site visit." And they're like, "Why, who?" And it's like, "You are partners on a grant project." "Oh, I think I remember something about that, but I'm not really sure, let me get back to you." That's not true, and it has happened more than once. I have gotten a county that didn't know they had a grant, that's not true collaboration.

Collaboration with state and local courts. Again this is more than just having the court's say, "Yeah, we really need this program and if you give us the money we will send people there." We require a court partner, the judge, to sit on the advisory board, to regularly attend advisory board meetings. It's not just because we're mean and we want to overwork them, if you're doing visitation services and you're having trouble with referrals or you are not getting information from the court that you need, people are saying, "Well, they send over all these cases but we never get any information, we just accept them." That's not something that should be going on, that's where your court partner should be able to come in and help you develop an appropriate referral form where you can get all of the information you need. If you are getting subpoenaed into court regularly and you can't do services, again your court partner needs to step in and say, "How can we fix this, what is it that we need to do?" These are things that we work with all of our grantees to have put in place before they begin implementing services.

Additional requirements, by statute, again this is Congress, it isn't us, you have to demonstrate expertise in family violence. This is a point in the solicitation which basically talks about who will implement, who are your grant partners, this is the area where you tell us who they are and all of the wonderful experience they have. If we don't see that people have that experience in domestic violence and sexual assault, you are probably not going to get funded because that is a requirement that's put down by Congress.

Implementing sliding fees. You don't have to charge fees, but if you do there has to be a sliding fee. We don't set out what the top and bottom have to be, all it says is that there has to be one.

Adequate security. This is one we are working on. All we say at this point is that you have to have some form of security, we are not dictating what it is, we're just saying you have to have it. Again this is set down by Congress, but I personally believe that it is really difficult for people to do visitation services with people who we know are violent. The whole reason we are doing the service is not about access, it's not because we like to do the visit, the whole reason we are doing the service is because we know that one person has harmed somebody else, that has perpetrated violence, and we know that these visitation services are necessary to ensure safety. So, if you're doing this work and nobody has any type of security, it really is dangerous and it's something we consider compromising victim safety.

Standards and protocols, we talked about that. In order to actually begin implementing services under the grant program, you have to complete policies and protocols.

Activities that compromise victim safety. These are pretty basic. We don't fund any mediation services. Pre-trial diversion programs basically says that there's a criminal case going on, we think that you're a danger to your children, yourself, and the mother of your children, but if you go ahead and go to a batterer's intervention program we'll let the criminal case drop. We don't want to use supervised visitation as an incentive for people not to have to go to jail, so, "Okay, I'll do it as long as I don't have to go to jail."

Batterer intervention not linked to criminal justice system. If you go to batterer intervention program and you go to all 52 programs then we'll wave the charges, we'll see what happens.

Mandating victims to services. I've talked with some programs that in order for families to use their services they have to go to family counseling, the victim has to go to individual counseling. That's not something that we allow our grantees to do because we think that's something that compromises victim safety. If the family needs to be in the visitation program for safety, and you're saying in order to access something that is going to keep you safe, we are going to require you to go to counseling or all of these other things, then the person is less likely to want to use your services and we think it's more important that she gets the services that she needs to keep her safe.

Discriminatory practices. Again federal regulation, you can't say, it seems like a no-brainer, nobody wants to discriminate, but I've seen visitation centers that say, "We're really sorry, we can't provide services to you, nobody here speaks Spanish" or "nobody here speaks Turkish." That's discrimination. You can't say that as a grantee under this program. It is up to the visitation center to figure out a way to get interpreters and provide the services to that family.

These are some of the special conditions that our grantees agree to. What will happen is that you will get an award letter and the award letter has special conditions. A lot of people, when I go to site visits they say, "We never knew there were special conditions. So does it count that we've been violating them?" Yes. If you are considering whether or not to apply consider some of these special conditions and see if it's something that your community can comply with.

Grant funds shall be used to support supervised visitation and safe exchange by and between parents. The child has to be in the custody of one or the other parents. The child cannot be in the custody of a grandparent, cannot be in custody of the state. Why? Because in this case, the purpose of the grant program is to increase victim safety, if the victim doesn't have custody of the child, or the person who has used violence doesn't have custody of the child, and they're never going to come into contact with each other, then there really isn't any reason for them to be using the visitation center for our grant programs. Again, we aren't saying that everybody else is doing it wrong, this is just how we limit our grant funds and how Congress initially wrote the legislation.

Grant funds will not be used to support visitation or exchange of children in foster care, kinship care, or protective custody. That's if the child's with the state or in foster care.

Funds may not be used to support individual counseling, family counseling, and parent education. So there are a lot of grant programs that as part of supervised visitation, they do pre-divorce or post- divorce classes, that's not something we can support.

Funds may not be used to provide offsite or overnight visitation services. Those are two types of visits we don't support. One, we feel that they are dangerous, two, if the court is going to order an overnight visit, it's going to be hard for that monitor to stay up all night watching that child, so is there really supervised visitation going on.

Grantee agrees to develop adequate security measures. Again, this is the adequate security that we talked about. We won't mandate what type of security that you should have, but we encourage you to work to really figure out what are the needs in your community. There are some places that have guards, wands, metal detectors, and there are others that are much smaller communities who've worked out something with the local police department, there are panic buttons, and that is really all they need because they haven't had a lot of incidences.

Again the Guiding Principles coming into play. The grantee agrees to ensure that the grant project is developed and implemented in a manner which is consistent with the Guiding Principles. The reason that we put this in is that there has been a lot of debate about the Guiding Principles; some people feel that the advocacy principle goes too far. It's not that we're not open to the debate, but these principles have been adopted by the Department of Justice, by the Office on Violence Against Women, and the decision has been made that anybody who receives grant funds will abide by the principles.

If it's that you are uncomfortable with them, that you don't like them, it doesn't work that you get funding and then you come and make the argument that we really shouldn't have them. It's not going to work that way. It's kind of like a done deal that has taken five to six years at this time. It's not to say that we may not revise them and amend them, but you really should read through not just the one sheet, but I believe they are on CD and they are online. Read them through. These are minimum; we expect our grantees to go beyond them. Make sure that these are principles that you can really be comfortable with.

Here's what everybody wants to know, the money. People who apply for development grants can apply for up to $400,000.00 over a three year period. In the first 12 months, $50,000.00 of that is going to be limited for you to do planning work or development work. You are also going to have $50,000.00 that you will have access to over the whole three year period for technical assistance, and that includes not just going to events like this, but also having people come out to your community and put on trainings. $50,000.00 over 36 months seems like a lot, it's not, because what we do is require people to travel in groups. So, if you receive funding, you would come to our first meeting which is a new grantee orientation and you come with the grantee, which would be the city, or the county, or the state, a representative from them, whoever is going to be running the visitation center, the domestic violence partner, and in a lot of cases, the court. So that is at least four to five people that you're going to travel with whenever you go to a conference. You get to know each other really well. Part of the reason we do that, it's on purpose; it's because we want to make sure that everybody hears the same thing. It's really hard when one person goes through training and then goes back and they say, "Well, they say we have to" and the other people are like, "Yeah, whatever. We don't want to do that." How are they going to know? They're not going to care. You have one person who is struggling to put together a project that complies with all of these requirements and everybody else didn't hear the same thing. If everybody sits down at the table at the same time, it's a lot easier when you go back.

The other thing is that this encourages collaboration. You have got to talk with each other, either on the plane, when you sit in small groups, when everybody is looking for someplace to go out to dinner and lunch. People have said that there are people they have never talked to that have lived in the same small town for years, but after one of the trainings they all started talking to each other and it really helped the project.

Advocacy is going to look different in different communities. There are some people who feel, and I don't disagree, that visitation centers should not be advocates, that that's not the place for advocacy to occur. I think like neutrality, the word advocacy has many different meanings. While I don't think the visitation center is the place where a victim should necessarily sit down and do her safety planning and they shouldn't be providing her with transitional housing, or helping her to sit and fill out a protective order, I do feel that they should be able to have a strong partnership with people who can provide her with those services.

It's not to say, "Here's a piece of paper with the local domestic violence shelter," it's being able to, again meaningfully, say, "I know this woman over here at the shelter, you wait here, I'm going to call her and have her come over and she's going to meet you here and you guys can talk and work this out." Some people think that's going too far. Some people think that visitation centers should just be down the middle, whatever we do for one parent we have to do for the other parent.

People say that that's what the courts want, but we actually did a couple of focus groups with judges, and they said, "We don't know where people got that idea from. That's not what we want. We want them to give whatever services to the families that the families need to be safe." That's, for us, why there's been so much tension. There are some people also who think visitation centers do too much to help parents who've used violence become better parents, and maybe that's not what they should be doing either, but that's not what we feel at the grant program. With the grant program and with all the guiding principles we really feel that the visitation center needs to do whatever is necessary to protect the adult victims and children that come in. There are a lot of times where being able to speak with the person that used violence and helping them to understand how their violence has impacted others is advocating for children and the victims.

Another type of advocacy, because I think one of the things we talked about is there are a lot of times that children don't want to visit, so they refuse to visit, and there are some visitation centers that say they have to visit, and they have to go in the room and if it gets intolerable they won't visit. We encourage people to come up with a policy and protocol about what they are going to do when the child doesn't visit, and we encourage that children don't have to visit. We look at that as advocacy, not just for children because the child gets to have a voice and if this is something that is scary for them they shouldn't have to do it, but also for the adult victims.

A lot of times victims want their kids to visit because they are afraid that if they don't visit, somebody is going to go back to court and say that they talked them out of the visit, that they're alienating, so they'll do whatever to force the child to visit because they don't want any problems down the line. Advocacy from a center is a great thing for the center to say, "You know what, we as a center are going to make a decision and we are going to have this policy that if a child is uncomfortable we'll try to work with them, we'll talk with them, see what's going on, but if they actually don't want to visit, then it's our decision that they won't visit." There you are protecting the child because the child doesn't have to be in an uncomfortable situation but you're also protecting the adult victim because it's not their fault, the center is taking this on as the center this is our decision.

ovw.usdoj.gov

You can go into funding opportunities. We have a lot of grant programs now, I think there are about 14 or 15, so starting in late October all of the solicitations start opening up so it's really difficult for us to know exactly when they are going to be available. Just go online, whatever you're interested in, whether it be this grant program or another, and just start looking every week. The solicitation is always open to new and continuation grant programs. Every year, it has been like that.

The only thing different that we've started doing now is that all of the grants are going to be for 36 months, for three year periods, continuation and development. We felt that 24 months wasn't enough. By the time people got everything started, got people going, they were trying to reapply for the next one. So, hopefully 36 months, if you've got two years of funding, that's six years, and hopefully that's a really good time for you to become entrenched in your community and start building sustainability.