Key Factor #2: Controlling for Conflict of Interest and the Appearance of Conflict of Interest
By Susan Griffin
The legal standards for professional providers of supervised visitation (PPSV) are specific about the types of relationships that are a conflict of interest:
(i) Conflict of interest
All providers should maintain neutrality by refusing to discuss the merits of the case or agree with or support one party over another. Any discussion between a provider and the parties should be for the purposes of arranging visitation and providing for the safety of the children. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, the professional provider should not:
- Be financially dependent on the person being supervised;
- Be an employee of the person being supervised;
- Be an employee of or affiliated with any superior court in the county in which the supervision is ordered unless specified in the employment contract; or
- Be in an intimate relationship with the person being supervised.
While this is a helpful start, there is much more that needs to be in place to control for this issue.
PPSV need to have clear, written policies and procedures in the written contract for services that is required by law in California. The contract should detail how the provider ensure neutrality. The contract should specify how the provider ensures that they will not discuss the merits of the case or agree with or support one party over another.
The provider should have clear policies about how they deal with situations where any legal party to the case attempts to disparage the other party to the provider.
Polices and procedures about the documentation of all contacts between clients and the provider should be clearly spelled out. All legal parties to the case should be confident that any discussion between a provider and the parties will be for the purposes of arranging visitation and providing for the safety of the children.
All legal parties should also be confident that 100% of any ex parte communication will be documented and reported. Because the provider is ordered as professional neutral, all communication on the case must be documented and reported.
It is important that the PPSV clarity about their role and about their scope of work. Multiple relationships with the same client are problematic because a conflict of interest is more likely to develop.
Sometimes multiple relationships develop because the PPSV has had inadequate training initially or because the PPSV does not engage in regular and transparent consultation and review of their work. The provider gradually becomes comfortable with the client or clients and moves beyond the professional role.
Typical boundary violations might include the following:
- Changing policies and procedures because they feel that the client really needs their help
- Taking care of the children during visits as if they are there a babysitter instead of a professional neutral
- Helping the client with parenting tasks during the visit
- Developing an emotionally close and physically affectionate relationship with the adult client and or the children
- Paying for food or gas for the client when that is not the policy
- Using ones personal car for transporting the client when that is not the policy
Serious boundary violations with a client might include the following:
- Renting a room or selling a house
- Loaning or selling a car
- Loaning money
- Editing documentation and court reports to protect the client
- Refusing to do the required documentation and court reports
At Hannah’s House, we have many policies and procedures in place to protect clients and to support and develop our staff.
Consumers need and deserve protection. California has laws that will do that if they are followed. Unfortunately, each of the 58 Superior Courts in the state take a slightly different approach to the Court Resource List for Professional Providers of Supervised Visitation – usually referred to as Visitation Monitors.
In San Diego, there are no requirements for inclusion on the list other than filling out and signing an affidavit under penalty of perjury that the person is qualified to do the work and will follow applicable laws. The affidavit in San Diego is the same whether the applicant is going to teach Boating Safety or be a Professional Supervised Visitation Monitor.
In other jurisdictions the court requires a variety of proofs from the provider before they can be included. Some examples are:
- Background check/Trustline Certification
- Insurance – auto and liability
- Contract for Services
- Documentation of 24 hours of training in areas specified by law
Because there are no additional protections for the consumers using providers on the San Diego Superior Court Resource List for Visitation Monitors, it is extremely important that consumers read both California Family Code 3200.5 and California Rules of Court 5.20 prior to calling anyone on the list.
Preparing for interviews of a professional who will have significant responsibility for ensuring the well being and safety of your children should be high on your list of priorities as a parent with a court order for supervised visitation services.
Hannah’s House meets and exceeds the 24 hour legal training requirement and we have done so since 1988, long before any standards existed.
The minimum requirement to work at Hannah’s House is 24 hours of classroom training and 16 hours of hands-on practicum shadowing cases. Once this 40 hour requirement is met, the PPSV is shadowed by a experienced professional while the new trainee supervises visit. This shadowing is typically between 16 and 40 hours, depending on the trainee.
Once a supervisor is qualified for independent service delivery at Hannah’s house, there is a Senior Supervisor who continues to oversee the work of all monitors during every work shift. Service delivery feedback is provided weekly, monthly and quarterly to all staff. Training is a high priority at Hannah’s House.
Our experience is that it takes at least one full year of service delivery under close supervision to develop the broad and deep knowledge and skills necessary for work as an independent private monitor. This is because we take the responsibility for the protection of children very seriously.
A conflict of interest tends to develop over time and happens so slowly and subtly that the monitor is often in trouble with multiple relationships before they notice. Make sure that the PPSV you choose to safeguard your children and your family-in-transition is truly a professional neutral.