Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to get supervised visitation underway

One of the hardest things to do is to actually get the visits started.  As mentioned in other blog posts, a well crafted order can save hours if not weeks in terms of getting visits underway.

For Children First, we will need to see any court orders that address visitation along with the contact name, number and/or email address of the other party's attorney or if they do not have one, of the other party.  As with all agencies, we have forms to review, sign and return prior to visitation commencing.

Once we have received the above information, we will do a phone intake to learn more about the situation and allow you to ask any questions.  We do the same of the other party.

With Children First, a mutually agreeable location needs to be decided upon.  It is safe to say that this is likely the single most contentious issues we will deal with.  The most successful visit is at a location the child/ren is/are familiar with and comfortable in.  It typically is not the parent's home if the child has never been despite how excited you may be to show the home you are living in, especially if it is new.  Again a good court order will spell out days, times and locations that are prohibited or activities that are prohibited.  A good court order will also defer to the agency to make the final decision whenever parties cannot agree.

Once the paperwork has been turned in, an intake has been completed and the first visit has been lined up, payment is required 72 hours in advance to the agency.  Social workers do not handle financial affairs.

A confirmation email is sent out with all of the details of the visit (who, where, when and contact information for everyone).  We endeavor to have the same social worker supervise all of your visits, but sometimes that is simply not possible.

At a minimum, it takes 3-5 business days to line up visits.  A call Friday afternoon to start visits that Saturday will never work.  Taking the time up front to set up visitation pays dividends in the long run for all parties.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Attorney's Perspective

In addition to owning and operating Children First, I am a Seattle attorney who has been specializing in family law  matters since 1997. Between these two pillars of my professional background, there are a few observations about supervised visitation and exchange that I want to take a moment to share.

Court Orders:  There are two words that need to be kept in mind when writing a court order - clarity and precision.  Many court orders I review for supervised visitation or exchanges leave alot to be decided by the parties.  Generally speaking, this is not good.  The more specific you are in the order, the less opportunity there is for one of the parties to delay visitations/exchanges because of the lack of clarity or specificity. 

In other words, be sure to answer where visits are to occur, specifically when they can occur (frequency and length), who can attend,  who pays, who gets to choose the agency that will supervise, etc.  There should also be an overriding sentence that addresses what will happen if there is an impass other than having to return to court.  Oftentimes, deferring to the supervising agency is a good way to resolve issues without having to go back to court.

Supervisor:  The purpose of having a supervisor for visitation is to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of the child/ren is protected.  Many parents believe that the supervisor is there to make judgments about one parent or if befriended, will help them in their case against their spouse/former spouse.  The supervisor is an objective third party whose job is to accurately report what transpired during the visit.

A good supervisor is like a referee you do not even know is present during a sporting event.  They are there in case something goes wrong, but otherwise they simply blend into the scene.

At Children First, one of the principle advantages we can offer is perspective.  As an attorney with 15 years of experience, I fully understand that supervised visits and exchanges are the place and moment when a series of personal, legal, and emotional decisions collide. That is why I am proud to work with a fabulous group of trained social workers who I believe are the truly the best in the business.

Friday, February 10, 2012

In the wake of the Powell tragedy

First and foremost, our hearts go out to everyone affected by this horrific event.  There are many questions that will never be answered and so many shattered lives and dreams.

For those left wanting to learn more about supervised visits than this blog has provided to date, I've provided this link to an Everett Herald article that helps explain the differences between DSHS supervised visits (dependency cases) and Family Law cases.

Our agency requires that both parties agree to use our service and abide by our rules.  As a community based agency, we offer visits in the community, at homes, in public places and the like.  The bottom line for Children First is that both parties have to agree upon the location.

Our agency realizes that supervised visits are frequently stressful for everyone involved. That is one of the key reasons that we only use trained, experienced social workers to conduct all of our supervised visits.  One of our primary goals, in addition to the health, safety and welfare of the child/ren, is to try to ease the stress involved in these situations and to provide a positive environment for the non-custodial parent and child/ren to visit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Good Visitation Notes Matter

Our agency receives many questions about what services we provide in addition to the actual supervised visit.  Whether you go with our agency or somewhere else, we highly recommend that you inquire about what notes are kept of the actual visit, in addition to how and when they are made available. We suggest parents or guardians even request a sample of an agency's visitation notes so they can see what is reasonable to expect.

Children First, which only uses professionally licensed social workers for supervised visits, provides detailed notes of the visit to all parties within 48 hours.  The first page documents some of the basics. Examples include whether the parent and/or child arrived on time and stayed for entire visit, whether the social worker had to intervene in order to protect the health, safety or wellness of the child, and what activities occurred during the visit.

The second page of notes is a narrative from the social worker that gives all parties a more comprehensive report of what transpired during the visit.  Here the parent or guardian will read, with more details, exactly what the parent and child/children did for the duration of the visit. This section would include any concerns that did not require the visit to be immediately terminated, but rather issues that need to be addressed, and other notable activities that occurred during the visit.

We are repeatedly told by parents on both sides of the supervision paradigm that these notes are extremely useful. Of course, they play a key role in learning what occurred during a visit, but they also are frequently reviewed by a court in the process of deciding the future of the case.  Our agency believes it is best to have notes completed immediately following the actual visit, as opposed to testing the memory of the visitation supervisor several weeks or even months later.

Again, whether using one of our professional licensed social workers or another agency, be sure to investigate what sort of documentation will be done for your visit.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Holidays and Supervised Visits - Exchanges

It is hard to believe the Holiday Season is almost upon us, but all you have to do is watch two minutes of TV commercials to know it's here! With that in mind, here are a few tips and reminders if you plan to have a supervised visit or exchange during these busy months.

First and foremost, we do book up early around the holidays, so please reserve your time now.

Second, there is a real abundance of great, child friendly activities in Western Washington during the holiday season... even better, most of them are free or very low cost. We urge our clients to take advantage of these opportunities to build some positive memories during visitation.  Below you will find a list of some of our favorite activities to engage in during supervised visitation.

Hoilday Parade - The Friday after Thanksgiving (11/25), the annual Macy's Day Parade in downtown Seattle is one of the most kid friendly parades around.  One great viewing spot is in front of the Grand Hyatt hotel as the parade assembles here and there is a nice large overhang to cover you in the event of rain!

Bellevue Botanical Garden - Garden D'Lights - an amazing use of lights that create garden scenes, animals, and other objects that children absolutely love.  Dress warmly and buy tickets in advance on-line to save time. Tickets used to be free... they aren't anymore, but they are very reasonably priced and this is a gorgeous spectacle that impresses every age group.

Christmas Ships - all around Lake Washington. Consult the schedule but these wonderfully decorated boats have choirs that belt out holiday music while you enjoy the show from the shore... both on the Seattle side and the East Side.  Some locations have bon fires to keep you warm.

Winterfest 2011 - Seattle Center - Holiday train display.  If you have a child who loves trains, this is the place to go! The down side is that lines can be long for those interested in controlling the train from the engineers booth.  The good news is it is all free!

Downtown Seattle - Be sure to hit the (free) Teddy Bear Suite and lobby display of festively decorated Christmas Trees at the Fairmont Hotel - a wonderful place for young children.  Go a couple blocks north and visit the (also free) incredible Gingerbread House display in the Sheraton's Lobby.  These are professionally designed gingerbread houses that kids love to see.  Depending on the weather and the lines, the annual Holiday Carousel at Westlake Park provides for a wonderful experience.

Downtown Bellevue - If the weather is cooperating, be sure to visit Bellevue Way which at this time of year is also known as Snowflake Lane. Soon after Thanksgiving, this is where it "snows" every night (7pm) and live drummer boys perform.  It is a wonderful sight, and if it is raining, the sky bridge that connects Bellevue Square to Lincoln Center is the perfect viewing spot.  If ice skating is your thing, there is also an outdoor rink set up with skate rentals available.  Weekends can be very crowded.

No matter where you go and what you do, the holidays are an important time to be with your children.  We do suggest booking your visit early.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Supervised Exchanges - How they work

Supervised exchanges comprise a significant portion of our business.  Oftentimes these are court ordered as a result of a no-contact, restraining or domestic violence protection order. However, on occasion, our services have been requested simply to ensure the safe and smooth exchange of a child or children during a particularly stressful or difficult time between parents.

Supervised exchanges are always done in public places, typically a coffee house, library or other facility that provides a safe and secure place for the children.

Our agency provides a supervisor who is well versed in the situation and is excellent with children as there is a generally a 10-15 minute period between the time the child is dropped of by one parent and picked up by the other.  Neither parent is to linger at the drop off location nor arrive early if they are the one receiving the child from the other parent.

Supervised exchanges can be tough on parents and children alike. Some of the stress for the children can be mitigated by explaining to them, before the first exchange, what is going to happen. We suggest that during the first exchange with a new supervisor, the parent who arrives with the child should plan to stay for 5-10 minutes to introduce the child to the exchange supervisor and help them feel comfortable. We also recommend that children bring a favorite doll, game or toy to help them feel more relaxed, and to help those 10 minutes or so without a parent feel a little shorter.

Shuttling between parents is seldom easy for children, even under the best of circumstances. Our goal at Children First is to help those more difficult exchanges occur in a safe, calm, and stress-free environment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Commonly Asked Questions

For most people, having to have supervised visits or exchanges is an experience that is new and unexpected.  As with any new experience, there are many questions that need to be answered; here are a few of the most common questions and answers:

1.  How does this whole process work?
We try to keep things simple so that visits can get underway.  Over the phone we get a sense for the situation (e.g. frequency, duration and location of visits, how many children, what limits the court has on visits) and just how quickly parties can move forward.  All parties must review, sign and return our contract, provide copies of relevant court orders, and agree on a time/location for the first visit.  The process speed is really up to the parties involved.

2.  Who arranges and supervises the visit?
Our agency can make the arrangements for the visit (time and place) as it is often easier for a third party to make these arrangements.  A professionally licensed social worker will meet the parties at the designated time and location.  This social worker will arrive already briefed on the situation and aware of any restrictions.  It is the goal of the social worker to simply be present to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the child/ren, but not be a central part of the visit.

3.  Do you have a facility for visits?
No. We are a community based agency and therefore we do not have a facility to conduct visits.  We strive to supervise visits wherever parents can agree to have the visits.  Locations can range from a parent's home, to a park/playground, to the zoo/aquarium/movie theater/baseball game, or simply at one of the local beaches.

4.  What if there is a no-contact order, restraining order or domestic violence protection order in place?
Our agency takes these restraints very seriously.  If there are any restraints in place, there will need to be a 10-15 minute window of time between one parent dropping of a child/ren and the other arriving.  There shall be no lingering.

The process can be very simple and very fast when all parties are on board with getting visits underway.  Though a week or two may not seem particularly long to an adult, for a child waiting to see its mother or father, it can feel like a lifetime.