Supervised access services help children visit with their separated or divorced parent. This can be done while some kind of investigation or legal process is still happening, or following a court order.
SUPERVISED VISITATION BOUNDARIES/RULES:
1. The parent and child(ren) have to always be within hearing and sight of the access supervisor. This is primarily to ensure that the child is protected from any harm. A secondary benefit is that the visiting parent can not be accused of abuse or inappropriate behaviour during visits. Due to this rule, the supervised parent can not take the child to washroom alone. If he child is not old enough to use the washroom, then the supervisor takes the child to washroom, or the supervisor and the parent both enter the family washroom with the child.
2. No negative talk about the other parent (or others) is allowed during supervised visits. It is important for both parents to understand that negative talk about either parent can create alienation, and can put the child through tremendous struggles, including: attachment and bonding issues, separation anxiety, loyalty issues, and sometimes much more. (Many of the adults with mental health issues and personality disorders today are the alienated children of past highly conflicted separation and divorce situations.)
3. No conversation about custody, court process, lawyers, judge, section 211, etc. are allowed.
4. No promises that can not be accomplished without the other parent's approval are allowed.
5. No secrecy requests, no interrogation of children for disclosures, no coaching, no written or verbal messages to the other parent or siblings through the child are allowed.
6. If there is a protection (no-contact) order in place between the parents, the supervised parent must keep at least 200 meters distance from the residential parent at all times.
Types of Supervised Access:
Supervised Visitation: The supervisor keeps a journal of the visit and provides a summary report of facts for court. The supervisor needs good boundaries and writing skills. However, unskilled supervisors must be supervised by educated and experienced coordinators and they must follow high standard ethics rules as set by the agency.
Supported Visitation: The supervisor must have specific training and/or experience in the areas of support to be provided to the parent or the child(ren) during the visit. (e.g. helping the child through separation anxiety or resistance to parent, or teaching basic parenting, boundary and discipline skills to the parent, etc,.) The supervision report will include information about the problem/issue that was addressed, and how.
Therapeutic Visitation: The supervisor must have proper degree, license and professional membership in the specific areas of therapeutic intervention being used (e.g. attachment and bonding, behavioural management, relationship healing, etc). The report will include information about the therapy provided, and how it was done.
Expert Assessment Visitation: In some cases the counsel can't figure out the underlying issues behind highly conflicted parenting time situations. Then a qualified professional is hired to supervise a number of exchanges and visits, in order to observe and assess the underlying issues, and then to make some expert recommendations for future planning of parenting time as well as additional support services that the family may need. This is usually done for interim periods of time while waiting for a further step in the court process.
Sometimes there is no supervision order or agreement, but the parents are too conflicted and unable to keep the peace while transferring the children from one to another. In such situations they may be ordered to use professional supervisor for the exchange.
Usually the supervisor just receives the children from one parent's car and walks with them to the other parent's car. Or the supervisor transfers the children by walking them from one store to another store in the mall, depending on where each parent is waiting.
Other times there is no order to have exchanges supervised, however the child(ren) may refuse to visit or one parent feels sabotaged during exchanges by the other parent. In such cases a professional supervisor is voluntarily hired to assist for a smoother exchange and/or to record the facts in a report to be used in court. At times, even the parent who is not aiming alienation is reinforcing the child's refusal to visit by disclosing their own struggles and custody issues, and thus having the child act out their own sense of helplessness in the custody battle.
It takes significant education and experience to properly understand and distinguish between children's refusal to visit due to separation anxiety or loyalty issues, and malicious setups through the other parent's subtle coaching and alienation. Unexperienced unprofessional hired staff often do not possess such discernment, and reinforce the child's distress or victim role while thinking they are actually helping the child.
Many children who refuse to visit at the beginning of the visit, end up actually enjoying the visit. Research shows that all children who refuse to visit secretly hope to be challenged and made to visit. That's because they actually love and want both their parents, no matter what they did to each other. The children may refuse to visit just because they don't know how to act without betraying the parent they live with, when the parents are very conflicted with each other.
Supervised visits are often done in public places like library, community centre, mall, playground, park. Sometimes parents or children choose to use other venues, like Chuck-E-Cheese, Funky Monkey, Ooie World, or McDonalds. Sadly some parents overdo use of expensive fun places, acting as the "Disneyland Parent" getting the children to attend for the sake of fun venues, rather than for a bonding time.
Also common are visits in the parent's home, when all parties agree. Children often prefer the home setting over the crowded and overly stimulating community environment. This makes the children calmer and more availble for bonding with their visiting parent.
Many agencies do not transport children by car due to liabilities. Instead they use public transit, or the supervisor is a passenger in the car while the supervised parent drives the child(ren) to/from visits, or to various locations chosen for the visit. The supervisor can also take a taxi ride with the child(ren), if parents choose to use such service and pay for it.
If the visit is done in a venue that charges entry tickets (e.g. cinema, Science World, Aquarium, Zoo, Playland, etc.), the supervised parent is responsible to cover the fee for the supervisor. The supervisor can also inform the venue staff about being "support worker for the child", as per legal requirement. That often waves the supervisor's entry fees to the venue. The one situation where the fee is usually not waved is when the visit involves viewing a movie (e.g. at Cinema, or at Science World).
We help the parents negotiate a suitable day and time for visitation, and prefer to keep it the same every week. We do appreciate flexibility to supervisors schedule when setting up these weekly visits.
With supervised access, evenings and especially weekends are in much higher demand, because many parents work or the children are in school during the week. Sometimes the court order requires specific days and times, and that can be different from supervisor's availability. However, the parties can make and agreement with eachother to change the court ordered day and/or time of the visits in order to fit the supervisor's schedule.
It always helps if you manage to add a clause in your order/agreement: "or as professional supervisor available". Otherwise it may be hard to get agreement from your ex to fit availibility of your chosen supervisor.
Transportation of children involves significant liabilities, which most agencies would not take, if they consult an insurance broker about it.
When transportation of children is absolutely necessary, we recommend use of taxi with supervisor, as it comes with proper insurance. Just keep in mind that the taxi may not have the car seat or booster seat your child needs, but you can always use your own.
If the supervisor transports the child(ren), or rides a taxi with the child(ren), then the cost goes up significantly, as the parent is paying for the transportation service as well as the driving time. Special car insurance for business use is necessary for any transportation of your children by professionals.
Depending on your specific situation, it may be better to use public transit, or to choose visitation locations that do not involve transporting the children.
Section 211 is some parents' hope and other parents' nightmare. The hope is always about gaining custody advantage over the other parent. The nightmare is always about the extremely high cost, and about the possibility of custody advantage going to the other parent.
Section 211 is done by a psychologist who interviews both parents, all the children, some collaterals, observes parent-child interactions for one hour with each parent, gives some psychological tests, and finally writes a very long report with all the gathered information, as well as opinions and recommendations regarding custody.
Often perceived as the only chance for fair assessment and expert recommendations, Section 211 has some drawbacks many parents don't expect.
1. Long delays. Those psychologists are very busy and it can take 6 months before they even start your assessment. Then the process you go through takes several weeks, even months. While waiting for Section 211 to be done, the supervised parent may be stuck paying for visits another 6 months or more.
2. High cost. Quotes of $12,000-15,000 can easily end up turning into $22,000-25,000 or more, depending on the psychologist's availability and the ever-growing piles of paperwork submitted between the two parties.
3. Lack of privacy. Everything is revealed in the report: all info about both parents (from childhood to meeting each other and ending with divorce), parents' views of each other, the results of the psychological testing, the statements from children and collateral, the observations of parenting time, the allegations, the custody goals, etc.
If the parents are unable to afford Section 211 and it is critical for the child, then the court may have it done and paid for, through the justice system.
Another option when parents can't afford Section 211 is to have a professional familiar with the case write an expert report. The expert report costs only about 10-20% of the Section 211 cost.
NOTE: This is not legal advice, just common sense from experience. Consult your lawyer before you use this information or make a decision for your case.
Expert reports can save a lot of time and cost for parents, being faster to obtain and only about 10-20% of the Section 211 cost.
Although anyone can ask for an expert report to be done, it is not guaranteed that the report will be accepted in court unless a proper procedure is followed:
1. Your lawyer submits an application to court to use an expert, and obtains court approval or agreement from the other party.
2. Your lawyer then sends a letter to the professional requesting an expert report with proper format and guidelines (as per Family Act), and with a number of specific or general questions that the expert would need to answer with their opinions and supporting facts.
3. Choose an educated professional counsellor with proper specialization to work with children through parents' divorce and custody battles, and with at least 5 years experience in their field. For Registered Clinical Counsellors go to www.bc-counsellors.org/counsellors and do a keword search for "children divorce".
4. Ask the professionals you shortlist, if they have done expert reports before, how long the report was, what effect the report had in court, and if their report was ever contested and dismissed. A short expert report of 3-5 pages may be a sign of not following proper format for court, and/or giving expert opinions without supporting facts. Very new professionals can be seen as handy "experts" for the moment, but their lack of knowledge and experience makes their reports weak and easy to dismiss later by a more experienced professional.
Keep in mind that the report is stronger if the expert has acces to both parents, and even observes the children with both parents for a good number of hours. Sometimes highly professional expert reports can trump section 211 reports (with just 1 hour parent-child observation) by having more hours of observations and more factual basis for their opinions. (This is not guaranteed, it depends from case to case).
If several professionals are working with the children and parents, you may want to get more than one expert report.
Sometimes parents and their counsel decide to get expert reports even without application and approval from court, planning to use it at least for trial, as notes for the witnessing professional.