Strategies to Improve Supervised Visitation in Domestic Violence

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The following article was written by M. Sharon Maxwell, LCSW, Ph.D. and Karen Oehme, J.D. and is merely a portion of the larger article which can be found by clicking here. Professional Providers are encouraged to stay informed regarding “Best Practices” in domestic violence visitation cases.

If supervised visitation programs are to continue to be used in domestic violence cases, there

must be a more critical examination of the current provision of services in programs with the

goals of enhancing the safety of participants and confronting evidence of domestic violence as

it is manifested in supervised visitation programs. There are a number of strategies that can be

recommended but they must be addressed system-wide and become part of a coordinated

community response to ending domestic violence.

Judicial Strategies

• A formal evaluation of the alleged perpetrator and the victim should be ordered prior to the

court-order for supervised visitation. A key component of this evaluation must be a lethality

assessment. The evaluation should be conducted by a mental health professional who has

had specific domestic violence training in conducting such evaluations.

• If domestic violence is confirmed, judges should order the batterer to complete a certified

batterers intervention program before ordering supervised visitation. This is currently

mandated in Louisiana ( Ver Steegh, 2000 ).

• Once a family court judge orders supervised visitation, a schedule for judicial review of the

case must be established and maintained ( NYSPCC, 2000 ).

• Family law judges should collaborate with their local supervised visitation programs on a

regular basis regarding non-case specific issues which involve operational and policy

aspects of the program. Program limitations in accepting certain cases should be delineated,

procedures for handling court orders from other jurisdictions should be established,

procedures for providing services to families with special needs covered under the American

with Disabilities Act should be determined.

• Family law judges must acknowledge that supervised visitation programs are not appropriate

in all domestic violence cases. The potential for lethality is so great in some cases, as has

been demonstrated by program reports and experiences, that visitation programs cannot

offer an adequate assurance of safety.

• Courts should work with their local supervised visitation providers to develop formal letters

of agreement which specifically outline policies and procedures for accepting domestic

violence referrals, conditions of supervised visitation orders, and the role of the supervised

visitation monitor ( Saunders, 1998 ; NCJFCJ, 1995 ; Ver Steegh, 2000 ).

• Courts should collaborate with their supervised visitation providers in developing observation

report forms for visits or exchanges and establish a mechanism for these reports to be

conveyed back to the court on a routine basis ( NYSPCC, 2000 ).

• Finally, courts must acknowledge that supervised visitation services are provided in a very

artificial setting. While the visit or exchange may go well and there are not reports of violence,

it must not automatically be inferred from a family’s experience that unsupervised visitation

will be without risk ( Straus, 1998 ). Further evaluation by domestic violence experts is

necessary before the order for supervised visitation is withdrawn.

Program Strategies

• Staff and volunteers of programs serving domestic violence cases must be adequately

trained in the dynamics of domestic violence, the impact of domestic violence upon child

witnesses, behaviors common to batterers and how these behaviors are manifested in

supervised visitation settings. They must also be informed about legal remedies, such as

orders for protection ( NYSPCC,2000 ; Maxwell &Robinson, 1998 ).

• Programs must require participants to share orders for protection with staff and these orders

should be placed in the family’s case file. If the program employs security officers, they

should also be given an opportunity to review the order ( NYSPCC, 2000 ).

• Program staff and volunteers must pay strict attention to the confidentiality of program

participants. No information about addresses, living arrangements, means of transportation,

telephone numbers and children’s school should be released. To violate a participant’s

confidentiality in this manner could dramatically increase the physical risk to the victim and

the child(ren).

Bibliography

American Bar Association. (2000). Commission on Domestic Violence. Policy 00a109A.

Bailey, M. (1999). Supervised access: A long-term solution? Family and Conciliation Courts

Review , 37: 478-486.

Edleson, J. L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal

Violence , 14(8), 839-870.

Field, J. K. (1998). Visits in cases marked by violence: Judicial actions that can help keep

children and victims safe. Journal of American Judges Association , 35: 3.

Johnston, J. R. (2000). Building multidisciplinary professional partnerships with the court on

behalf of high-conflict divorcing families and their children who needs what kind of help? University

of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, 453.

 

 

The $ and #’s Impacting Domestic Violence

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  • Domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the US alone—the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
  • Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.
  • The costs of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.
  • Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.
  • 63% of all boys who commit murder kill the man who was abusing their mother.

 

  • In a national survey of more than 6,000 families in the United States, half of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.

 

  • Long-term exposure to battering can result in delinquency, higher rates of substance abuse, propensity to use or tolerate violence in future relationships, and a pessimistic view of the world.

 

  • Short-term effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence can include post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disturbances, separation anxiety, aggression, passivity, or desensitization to violent events.

 

  • Eighty-five percent of assaults on spouses or ex-spouses are committed by men against women with an estimated 3.3 million children exposed nationally to violence by family members against their mothers or caretakers each year.

 

  • At least 75% of children whose mothers are battered witness the violence.

 

  • In one study, forty-seven percent (47%) of homeless parents reported a history of domestic violence and one in four stated that a primary reason they sought shelter was domestic violence.

 

  • It is estimated that there are 1.35 million homeless children in the US; nearly half of these are under the age of 5.
  • Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
  • Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.

Behaviors of Batterers That May Impact Supervised Visitations

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If, after conducting an intake, the Provider accepts a referral for visitation in a domestic violence case, it is important to identify behaviors that may subsequently impact visitation. It is critical to keep in mind that the goal of providing supervised visitation services, including Provider exchanges, is to provide a safe, neutral setting for parent-child access. If this cannot be accomplished, the visitation program must not accept the referral.

The following are behaviors sometimes used by batters that may affect a program’s ability to provide safe visitation:

  • Threats of violence toward the victim. This may include verbal abuse as well as attempted or actual physical assault.
  • Threats of violence toward children. This may include verbal abuse, threats, attempted or actual physical abuse, kidnapping.
  • Using visitation to send messages to the victim through the children.
  • Stalking the victim and children upon arriving or departing from visitation program. This can be done in person or through a third party family member or friend.
  • Intimidating children to reveal their current living arrangement, their custodial parent’s activities, their phone numbers.
  • Testing or violating staff or volunteers.
  • Intimidating visitation staff or volunteers.
  • Pitting one staff member against another to encourage divisiveness.
  • Requesting “special” privileges, such as unsupervised time with children.
  • Denial or minimization of abusive behavior (“It’s all a misunderstanding.”).
  • Blaming other parent for necessity of having to use visitation services.
  • Attempting to bring weapons (guns, knives, etc.) into program.
  • Threats or attempts to commit suicide.

Reducing Risk and Enhancing Safety for Visitation Providers

The point at which visitation services are ordered is often the period of greatest risk to the victim and children. Research indicates that victims leaving violent relationships face the greatest risk of death or serious injury in the period following separation. To enhance victims’ and children’s safety, programs should structure services in the following ways:

 

  • Providing well-designed security arrangements on site. This may include a formal policy for using on- site law enforcement officers, panic buttons to alert local law enforcement to problems, and other tools that staff are thoroughly trained in using, such as weapon detectors;
  • Having a safety plan in place for each family. This plan includes initial and ongoing identification of the risks to each member of the family;
  • Ensuring that perpetrators and victims do not come in contact with each other during visitation or Providers exchanges;
  • Arranging for separate arrival and departure times for victims and perpetrators;
  • Intervening in the visit if perpetrator denies, minimizes, or blames his or her partner for violence;
  • Reporting to the referring court any incident which affects the safety of program participants or staff; and
  • Requiring victims to bring a copy of their injunctions for protection for program records.

Keep the Children Safe this Halloween

Choose Costumes Carefully

  • Select flame-resident labels.
  • Look for bright colors and add reflective tape to treat bags and shoes.
  • Non-toxic makeup assures greater visibility than masks.
  • Avoid costumes that are too long and keep large or sharp accessories home.
  • Pass up on monster shoes or high heels and instead send the kids out in well-fitting shows that lace up.

Sit your Child down for a Serious Halloween Safety Talk

  • Stay with your group and don’t go out alone.
  • NEVER enter a stranger’s car or home.
  • Stick with your planned route.
  • Don’t eat any treats until you come home.
  • Don’t run – walk and stay in well-lit areas.
  • Take along your cellphone and a glow stick or flashlight.

*Children under age 10 should be supervised by an adult.

Prepare Yourself for Safety Too

  • Make your home, yard and driveway safe for visiting princesses and action heroes. Keep candle-lit pumpkins away from steps and walks – better yet, invest in some battery-operated lights. Remove obstacles like lawn chairs and dog chains that can cause tripping.

*You can find more Halloween safety tips at Safekids.org Thanks to Hedding Law Firm for sharing these safety tips. Need a Defense Attorney? Visits www.topcriminalattorneyla.com