Supervised Visitation and Exchange Services enable children to maintain connections with parents with whom they are not living by protecting the physical and emotional safety of the children and their families.
Examples: The degree to which the child’s caregiver is involved in intake and orientation may depend upon the type and willingness of the placement. For example, if the child has been placed in a residential treatment program, the organization may only be able to provide program staff with its policies and procedures regarding visitation and exchange. In contrast, foster parents may be more willing to play an active role in service delivery. In some cases an organization may only be able to communicate with the child’s caseworker.
During intake the organization obtains the following information:
reasons for referral;
copies of any current court orders, including protective orders;
status of custody determinations;
other persons authorized to visit, if applicable;
records or allegations of child abuse or neglect, including the type of abuse or neglect and the alleged perpetrator;
records or allegations of domestic violence, including the nature of the abuse and the alleged perpetrator;
photographs of children and adults who are authorized to participate in visits or exchanges; and
relevant financial data, if applicable for determining program fees.
Some information, including reasons for referral, copies of court orders, and a list of other persons authorized to visit, should ideally also be provided by the court or referring agency prior to intake.
Intake is used to explore:
the parents’ relationship with the children;
the parents’ relationship with one another, including marital status;
the date and nature of the last contact between the visiting party and children;
any issues or special needs of parents or children that may impact visits or exchanges, including physical, emotional, mental health, or substance use needs or issues;
parents’ views about their situations and any needs or concerns they may have, including concerns about safety and whether they need protection from the other parent;
any topics that parents or caregivers believe should not be discussed with or in front of the children, such as specific family members or activities; and
current living situation of the children.
The organization uses the information obtained during intake, along with the reason for referral, to make determinations regarding specific service issues related to the case.
Rather than simply gathering information, the organization should also make decisions about how to plan for safety and structure service delivery based on the information gathered. If information arises during intake that changes the outcome of the risk assessment that was conducted upon referral (i.e. the organization determines it is not reasonably prepared to address the safety risks and needs associated with a particular case), the case should be rejected.
Orientation for parents and caregivers is focused on the family’s unique risks, needs, and circumstances, and includes:
a tour of the facility;
an overview of the role and goals of the program and the nature of the services provided (i.e. if services are part of a path to family reunification or if services will simply allow for parent-child contact despite the presence of parental conflict);
an overview of what to expect during visitation or exchange;
an explanation of the consequences for breaking program rules;
a description of the security measures and safety features in place at the program;
an explanation of how observations will be recorded, what records will be kept, and what information may be reported to the court or referring agency;
a discussion of how children may react to visitation or exchange, including help preparing children for services;
a discussion of the needs of each family member, including needs and concerns related to safety; and
an opportunity to have questions answered.
When an organization serves child protection cases and is expected to report on the achievement of defined behavioural goals that will be criteria for reunification, parents should be informed about what those goals are, and how their achievement will be determined and documented, before the start of services.
Parents sign a service agreement indicating that they have been oriented to service and agree to comply with the program’s rules and requirements.
A plan for contact:
specifies the start date, frequency, time, length, and location of visits or exchanges;
identifies who will be present for the visit or exchange;
considers the child’s needs and daily schedule;
accommodates the schedule of both the visiting parent and the custodial parent or caregiver, to the extent possible;
is closely connected to the permanency plan developed by the caseworker, when serving child protection cases; and
designates responsibility for paying fees associated with visits or exchanges, if applicable.
Although the referral order should ideally specify responsibility for paying program fees, the organization should have a process for determining fee allocation in cases where the referral order does not include such a determination.
Children participate in an age-appropriate orientation that is focused on the unique risks, needs, and circumstances of the child and family, and:
provides an opportunity to meet program personnel and tour the facility;
explains why supervised contact is being provided;
describes what to expect during supervised visitation or exchange;
explains program rules and safety protocols, as well as why those rules have been made;
allows them to express concerns and ask questions; and
assures them that the involvement of the organization is not their fault.
Examples: Although it may not be possible to engage very young children (e.g., infants) in an orientation, even children as young as two or three can be at least somewhat prepared for visitation, for example, by using simple words and puppets to explain what will happen.
Given that services sometimes fall through even after the intake process has begun, it may make sense to hold off on conducting the child orientation until after parents have gone through intake and it is clear that service provision will proceed.
Personnel interact with all service recipients in a sensitive, courteous, and respectful manner, regardless of the circumstances and safety concerns that resulted in referral for services.
Examples: Even though parents may be treated differently, and subject to different rules, based on the safety risks they present, they can still all be treated respectfully. For example, even when cases involve allegations of domestic violence personnel can still ask perpetrators how they wish to be addressed, acknowledge their life circumstances and cultural backgrounds, emphasize that rules are to keep people safe rather than to punish, and allow them to tell their own stories, albeit without validating their point of view regarding the family violence.
When intake reveals unmet needs, parents are referred to appropriate resources.
If unmet needs are discovered later in the course of service provision, referrals should also be provided after intake. When needs are identified in active child protection cases, the organization is typically expected to inform the case worker assigned to the case rather than providing referrals directly.
Examples: Appropriate resources are not limited to those pertaining to the issues that prompted the referral for service, and may include counselling and mental health services, services for substance use conditions, parenting classes, domestic violence safety planning and advocacy services, batterers intervention services, education and employment services, and immigration legal services, as well as resources providing linkages to housing, food, clothing, or medical care.