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.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our Social Workers

At Children First, we pride ourselves on providing highly experienced social workers to do all of our supervision.  Whether it is in King, Pierce or Snohomish County, we have social workers available weekdays and weekends to meet the needs of working and non-working parents.

For many parents, having a third party participate in visitation is something new to them.  Our social workers understand this and make sure to not interject themselves into the visit, but rather be there should the health, safety or welfare of the child/children be in jeopardy.  Our agency strives to have one social worker stay with the family for all of the visits to ensure continuity.

In King County we have approximately 6 social workers who are available for supervised visitation.  Many of them are affiliated with the Department of Social and Health Services and are particularly trained in handling domestic violence situations.  Their experiences are broad ranging from youth counselors, to Guardian Ad Litems, to domestic violence advocates. The common theme between them, however, is their incredible dedication to the field of social work and the clients they work with.

On separate (but slightly related) note: I wanted to include a few pictures from the recent Taste of Main event in Bellevue. My wife is a former board member (and current honorary board member) at the Children's Response Center (CRC) and we make a point of participating in this annual fundraiser every year. For those who are not familiar with it, the Taste of Main is an annual event when almost every business on Bellevue's Old Main street opens its doors and offers food, kids activities, or discounts to benefit CRC which provides counseling and other services to children on the Eastside who've suffered sexual or traumatic abuse (and assistance for their families, too).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Selecting a Visitation Service

For many people, having a judge order a parent to have supervised visits with their children is a shock. It's certainly something most people don't think about unless and until it's required.  As a result, the task of selecting an agency can often feel overwhelming, especially with the added pressure that you won't be able to see your child again until you've found an agency to supervise the visit.

At Children First, we strive to make this stressful process as simple and straightforward as possible.  We require a copy of court orders related to visitation, a signed contract and some basic information about you and your child/children.  After an intake interview of both parents (which can be done over the phone) we pair you up with a social worker.  We make every effort to keep that same social worker on the case for the duration of the supervised visits since we know continuity is very important for all involved... especially the children.

Within 48 hours of the visit, the social worker will draft a report detailing how the visit went.  This report is sent to both parties and their lawyers, if desired.

We realize being required to have supervised visitation is difficult on parents and children. Our goal is to provide professional, licensed social workers who can help make the situation a little easier for the children, while offering both parents reassurance that the child will be safe and visit carefully documented.

If you have any questions about Children First and the service we offer, please do not hestitate to call us 206-491-2452 or email.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Welcome to Children First Visitation and Transportation Services' Blog

As we approach our one year anniversary, it seems appropriate to join the online blogging world.

First and foremost, a most sincere thank you for all of the referrals that come in each week.  It is very appreciated and we at Children First are proud to provide professionally licensed social workers for supervised visits and to be a member of the Supervised Visitation Network.

We have also received excellent feedback about our wonderful and professional social workers.  We feel extremely fortunate that they have chosen to work for our agency.  Not only do they provide exceptional visitation supervision, but they are also diligent about issuing reports to all parties within 48 hours of each visit.

We anticipate using this blog as a resource for parents involved in supervised visits and for providing additional information and ideas to make this process more enjoyable.  We know for many clients, this is their first exposure to having to be supervised by a third party when seeing their children.  It can be difficult and stressful.  Our agency strives to make the process not only safe and secure for the children, but to allow the parent to be a parent.

This weekend, we encourage parents to visit Medina Days where Hopelink will have a booth selling ice cream and lemonade with all proceeds going to help people in need.

It is never too early to mark your calendars for the Children Resource Center's Taste of Main event in downtown Bellevue next Saturday, August 20th.  My wife is a former Board Member and active supporter of the CRC and we would love to have another wonderful turnout for this year's event.