Learn more about professional supervisors, non professional supervisors, and questions to ask before hiring a supervisor.
The first thing to understand about hiring a counsellor for the children of divorce, is that this is a very separate specialty in counselling.
Sometimes the court order requires visits to be in the presence of a "non-professional supervisor". This means pretty much just having a chaperone, which could be a grandma, a friend, a community worker, a neighbour, a pastor, etc. In that case you can hire any supervisor that the other party will agree with, and it could be just anyone over the age 18.
Some parents who are only required to hire a non-professional supervisor will still hire a professional supervisor because they want to receive reports for court, and they want the supervisor to be neutral, experienced and/or educated in the field.
The presence of a professional supervisor is most of the times required through court order. Other times it is just a custody agreement, to help the child reconnect with the separated parent before going into their unsupervised parenting time. There are also times when the parties agree to a few supervised visits on a non-prejudice basis, while waiting for the next court hearing or JCC.
CAUTION! So called "professional supervisors" are sometimes not professional at all. Access supervisors are not yet government-regulated in BC as well as many Canadian provinces and US states. Also, anyone can claim to have an agency but hires unsuitable people from Craigslist to be their supervising staff or drivers transporting children for visits. Thus many mistakes are made, deeply affecting the children as well as their parents.
Parents need to choose very carefully who they entrust their children to. Through the supervision reports provided for court, the supervisors actually affect the children and their parents for the rest of their life.
1. What is your (your staff's) qualification?
Most professional supervisors have absolutely no related education or training. If the agency has at least one educated owner/coordinator, they can carry a team of less educated staff who would hopefully keep the same high professional standards. But if the owner/coordinator is not educated in related fields, their staff's professional conduct and quality may be very inconsistent and unreliable.
2. How long have you (your staff) been doing this?
Seek an agency with at least 5 years experience. Also, nobody should run a supervision agency without first working as supervisor for another agency at least 5 years.
3. Do you (your staff) have criminal record check done for the Vulnerable Sector? How often do you renew it?
Criminal Record Checks for the vulnerable sector are necessary whenever the professional works with underage children or seniors. This means records are checked for possible pedophile past record. The CRC should be renewed yearly, just like schools do it with their teachers.
4. Do you have a website and an intake form?
Having these is a better sign for the agency's reputation, but even bad supervisors can have them. Consider their answers to all questions together before you make a decision.
5. How do you (your staff) ensure supervision when some family members talk to the child(ren) in a language unknown to the supervisor?
If anyone talks to the children in a language unknown to the supervisor, the purpose of supervision is defeated. Allowing languages unknown to supervisor creates opportunities for secrecy and emotional abuse to the children. Sad to see some agencies make big money without protecting the children. If there is no supervisor available for that specific language, the least that can be done is to record the whole visit and have someone reliable check on appropriateness of the conversation in the unknown language.
6. Are your reports signed? Who writes or signs the reports when you use hired staff?
Each supervisor must fully write and sign their own report. Some agencies send the reports unsigned, and then the reports have no value in court. Also, some agency owners sign their staff's reports, and then it's all "hearsay", having no value in court. It is best for an agency to have a reports manager who reads every report for grammar, clarity and professionalism. If anything is unclear or needs to be corrected, the report should be sent back to the supervisor to do it. That's because one day the supervisor might need to defend parts of their report by taking the stand in court.
7. Who is your client? The residential parent who makes the rules, or the supervised parent who pays?
Correct answer: the child is the client. It is best if the agency has a case manager who can hear the stories parents want to communicate from the past or the complaints against the other parent or the supervisor. That way the case manager handles all the due process while the supervisor's relationship with both parents remains clean and unbiased from beginning to witnessing in court.
8. Do you (your staff) witness in court? Have you ever witnessed in court?
If they don't witness in court, they are likely shy and lacking confidence about their professional work. Also, their reports can be easily dismissed when not backed up by taking the stand.
9. Were your (your staff's) work or reports ever contested or were you (your staff) ever fired for that reason?
Access Supervisors often work with parents who are ferociously fighting each other in court for parental rights and property division. When they cannot defeat each other, occasionally they start fighting the supervisor or the agency all together. Many good supervisors can get contested or even fired for being honest, when the parent is trying to manipulate the other parent. If an agency does not admit to being sometimes contested or fired, either they are not doing a good job reporting, or they are lying.
10. Do you set boundaries or provide support to the child or the parent if necessary? Is the boundary issue described and the support recorded in the report?
Sadly, some agencies do not ask their supervisors to stop the parent when there is inappropriate conversation, or they do not help the child overcome separation anxiety. If the boundaries have to be set with the parent, the report should mention it. Choose an agency that has supported visitation services aside from the regular supervised visitation. That way your children are protected from inappropriate talk during visits and receives professional help working through their anxiety or anger.
11. How do you (your staff) address issues of bathroom, swimming, park, sports, tubing/etc. so the parent is never alone with the child?
Sadly, some supervisors let them go to washroom or tubing/sliding/swimming by themselves, or the supervisor is also in the water swimming. How are they supervising, and how are they taking notes in those situations? The supervised parent and children should never be out of supervisor's sight and hearing distance. For that reason, the supervisor takes the child to the bathroom or watches the parent assisting the child in a family washroom where they can all be together.
12. When do you write your notes, and how long until you send the report?
To have value in court, the notes must be written during the visit, and any necessary editing done right after the visit. It can take a few days for the reports manager to proof read and request further clarification from the supervisor. You should receive each report within a week from the visit. The longer the time until the report is written and sent, the less reliable in court. Sadly, some supervisors do not write their notes right away, then they forget key details sometimes even getting backed up with weeks of undone reports. Some parents shared having three months of weekly reports never sent to them by a previous agency although they paid for it.
13. Do you bring toys/games/activities to the visits if the parent doesn't have any?
A good Supervisor will keep some toys/activities for backup in their car incase the parent was not able to provide them on short notice. However, the parent should be encouraged to bring their own in future visits, to build a responsible approach to their parenting time.
14. Are you incorporated? Do you belong to a regulated association? Do you have business insurance?
Hiring staff and having them transport children without being incorporated or having business insurance on their car, shows the supervisor is not professional enough, or not knowledgeable enough for their own protection. How are they going to protect your child if they are not even protecting themselves? And if they do not belong to any regulated association, they have no professional standards or code of ethics to follow.
15. Do you (your staff) transport children? Do you (your staff) have insurance for transporting children and approved car seats or booster seats?
Sadly, some of the supervisors out there do not know child safety rules nor have proper equipment. Who will ensure your child's safety if the supervisor is not properly insured, knowledgeable and equipped? Due to high liabilities involved with transporting a child, some agencies do not provide such service. The options are to use a taxi, public transportation, or the supervised parent can drive the children while the supervisor is in the car.
16. Do you (your staff) ever cancel visits? For what reasons would you cancel a visit? How do you do it?
Rarely, a visit must be cut short by the supervisor, for instance when the child is sick, or very distressed. Also, if the supervised parent is not keeping the supervision rules, is under influence of alcohol/drugs, is very late, becomes in some way abusive (arguing with or threatening supervisor, interrogating children, alienating the children, not addressing children's bad behaviour, taking them out of supervisor's view and sight, etc.). If the parent is refusing supervisor's correction and then resisting the cancellation, or becomes in any way aggressive, Police may be called to keep the peace as the child is returned to the residential parent.
17. How can a parent cancel a visit and for what reasons? How can it be done?
Any cancellations will be reported as well as the reasons for cancellation. Seldom cancellations for a reasonable issue like illness are not perceived negatively. A note from doctor is often required when a visit is canceled for health reasons. However, cancellations should be made one week ahead so that the supervisor can be rescheduled with another family. Less than one week cancellations must be renegotiated for a makeup time. Less than 48 hour cancellations must be paid.
The first thing to understand about hiring a counsellor for the children of divorce/separation, is that this is a very separate specialty in counseling. Hiring a counsellor who is not specialised in working with children of divorce/separation can lead to the child becoming labeled with depression, anxiety, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), etc., and treated like they have a serious mental health problem. This can end in harm to the child and the parent-child relationship, false allegations, increase of loyalty issues, alienation, etc. and is overall malpractice.
The worst cases we have seen were when unexperienced counsellors, just a few months members in their professional association, claiming to work only with teens and adults, would do therapy with a 7-8 year old child, and without obtaining parental consent from both parents, would write letters to court making severe allegations against a parent they never met. These counselors are unaware that they are not qualified to work with children of divorce, they easily enmeshed with the one-sided story or the child's distress, they do not understand divorce, they do not objectively check facts, and they reinforce the children's struggles instead of helping them. We have seen parents lose access to their children based on this unprofessional malpractice approach of unexperienced counsellors. Later on those letters may be easily demolished by more experienced professionals, but the damage already done to the child and the parent-child relationship is very significant.
Counsellors for children of divorce operate and provide therapy in a very different way from regular counsellors. They are trained to understand what specific issues these children are struggling with, and how to help them navigate safely to the shore despite parental conflicts. The children are not labeled as having a mental health problem themselves, and they are not encouraged in making false allegations or protecting one parent and rejecting another. This therapy is very different, and by selecting a counselor with the right kind of training and experience will save both the parents and the children a lot of grief.
Do not just take someone's word for who is a good counsellor or not. Research them, talk to them, check reviews on them. The best way to find a good counsellor is to go to BCACC website with Registered Clinical Counsellors. www.bc-counsellors.org/counsellors. Select your city for location, then in the keyword put "children divorce". If you don't get enough choices for counsellors in your city, then try the cities around you. Read every profile, call the ones that look suitable, and ask more about their work and how they would deal with your case.
STYLE. Lawyer's style of work is very important. If your goal is to go to trial to sort things out, then hire a lawyer who loves trial work. If you prefer to negotiate and make agreements without trial, then hire a lawyer who loves making agreements and finishing without trial.
SPEED. We've heard about many great lawyers who miss some of their clients' timely and rightful opportunities because they are too slow replying and producing paperwork for the other party or for court. We've also heard of lawyers who keep gaining unexpected advantages for their clients just by being fast in communicating complaints to the other counsel and in submitting ex-parte applications to court.
POLITENESS. It is thought that lawyers who are very polite to their colleagues, can be easily tricked and manipulated into agreements you haven't planned for. It may not be easy to find an "aggressive" lawyer to represent you, or you may not afford it. At least find one who can risk being impolite with other lawyers in order to protect your legal interests and goals.
AVAILABILITY for court appearance. Some renown lawyers are often busy and have a habit of sending their junior lawyers to stand for them in your court hearings. Those temporary court lawyers know nothing about your case, they don't know what to tell the judge, and will most likely end up doing nothing to defend your interests.
And before you sign the contract with any lawyer, look them up on the Internet, TV news, client reviews, etc. You may be surprised that some practicing lawyers have serious issues with the law, themselves. You may still choose them, but at least be informed.
NOTE: This is not legal advice, just common sense shared by other parents. Consult a lawyer before you use this information or make a decision for your case.