Key Factor #3: Clear Policies and Procedures
By SUSAN GRIFFIN
Since 1988, Hannah’s House has provided forensic support services to families involved in family court cases the San Diego Superior Court.
We started very small with just one family. We consulted with professionals in the community from different ares of interest:
- Mental Health
- Law Enforcement
- Employee Assistance
We also identified a large group of consumers who had used forensic support services in communities throughout the country, and conducted individual interviews and surveys to determine what had helped families and what had hurt families.
It quickly became clear that there were several basic elements that had to be present in any effort to help these families:
- Philosophy of inclusion of both parents
- Goal of normalizing divorce, separation, and child sharing
- Equal treatment of both parents ordered to supervised visitation
- Focus on the here and now for parents visiting children – references to the past or the future was stressful for the child
- Sensitivity to the appearance of bias or the appearance of a conflict of interest
- Routine and predictability was essential for all family members
Fortunately, the co-founders of the organization came out of a military background where clear policies and procedures provided a sense of stability, continuity and teamwork.
The organization was developed with these 6 basic elements as the cornerstone. Clear, written policies and procedures were created between 1988 and 1992 as service delivery to families increased.
A community advisory group composed of the interdisciplinary team of professionals drafted policies, reviewed the implementation with families as they received services, and refined the procedures to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Many of the polices and procedures created during those early years remain unchanged today. California did not have standards for the delivery of professional supervised visitation services until 1998, originally Rules of Court 36.2, not 5.20.
Hannah’s House was already meeting and exceeding those 1998 standards when they came into being. The only changes required were agreements with local law enforcement and specific abduction prevention policies that were required for agencies.
The definition of supervised visitation in the law is “contact between a noncustodial party and one or more children in the presence of a neutral third person.”
There is no mention of anyone other than parent, child, neutral. By law, there is no inclusion of guests. No extended family members. No blended family members. No friends.
This basic definition is probably the best example of why clear policies and procedures are essential. There is no way to address the matter of guests in an unbiased way that ensures there is no discrimination in favor of or against a consumer unless the same rules apply to every single case and every single request.
There are 17 standards in the law, and 90 sub-standards in the California law governing the work of the professional provider of supervised visitation. Despite this attention in the law, this is a profession that is still largely unregulated.
Consumers have little or no protection from professional providers who do not follow the Administrative Rules 5.20 and Family Code 5.20, especially if the consumer has no idea that they are operating illegally. That is why it is critical for the consumer to know the law and know the legal standards.
Take a copy of Family Code 3200.5 and Rules of Court 5.20 to your orientation meeting with the professional provider you have chosen. The provider should be able to tell you the policy and procedures they have in place for each of the 17 standards and each of 90 sub-standards.
The provider must have a written contract signed by each client that details the policies and procedures of the provider. If you, the consumer, find that the provider is unable to tell you what the policies and procedures are that they follow to ensure compliance with the law, don’t use them for services.
Policies and procedures established, implemented, and maintained by the professional provider of supervised visitation is the only protection the individual family member has that the child will be safe and court orders will be respected.
San Diego Superior Court does not require any proof from any person on Court Resource List. regarding business liability insurance, appropriate automobile insurance for transporting clients in the course of a business (particularly children); or background checks; You, the parent, are the only person who can ensure the the law is followed.
The law is in place to ensure that the services are delivered properly, that orders are followed and that children are protected. Professional providers of supervised visitation should be held to the standards they have already sworn to under penalty of perjury when they made application to be included on the list provided to consumers on the San Diego Superior Court website Court Resource List.