Supervised Exchanges: Supporting Families During Breakup, Part II
by SUSAN GRIFFIN, LMFT AND DENNIS WONG, PHD
Supervised exchanges shelter children from unexpected incidents of parental tension and conflict and the results end up positive for everyone:
- Children can learn, through practice, to go back and forth between their two homes feeling safe and secure and happy, knowing they will not have to deal with Mom and Dad seeing each other or either parent seeing that the child is happy to see the other parent;
- Each parent is able to focus on the transfer their child to the co-parent’s home without worrying about negative experiences with the other parent and feeling safer and more secure knowing that negative or uncooperative behavior will be addressed and documented
- Parents are able to take the time to cool down and learn to use their support system when something does happen during the exchange that upsets them.
Parents need calm and predictable time and practice with the new situation just as much as the children do. Supervised exchanges provide the space and distance from parental conflict which then gives each parent the opportunity to learn how to deal with some strong and challenging feelings without the presence of the other adult. That means that the adults are available to fully focus on the needs of the child during each transition. This is a positive way of parenting.
Unfortunately, many parents don’t get the chance to adjust to a new family structure and routine without the frequent disruption and uncertainty inherent in having direct contact with the co-parent when feelings are still raw. So even minor and ordinary childhood incidents, like a bump on the head from a playground accident that could just as easily have happened at school rather than during time with the co-parent, begin to turn into worries about neglect or even abuse. Left unchecked and uninterrupted such worries can develop into serious allegations, unresolveable conflict between the parents, and even calling the CWS Hotline or filing in Court. The availability of a trained professional who is neutral on the merits of the situation and available for support and assistance to all members of the family, can fill the vacuum created by insecurity and a lack of communication. The professional monitor can help both parents feel more secure by providing immediate, objective and factual information about concerns as they arise.
Some newly divided families do exchanges at police stations because it is free, available and feels safe. As an attorney recently reported, domestic disputes up to and including physical violence can easily occur in police parking lots because the police do not actually supervise the exchanges. Essentially, it is front-facing parking at a police or sheriff station. While the general sense of a police presence may help parents feel safer, the situation often feels more dangerous to the child because they know that police deal with people who break the law and people who are not safe.
So our children often approach the police station with one of two responses:
- They fear that someone is in trouble and will or may be arrested
- They believe the judge thinks that one or both of their parents are unsafe and needs the police to keep them in line, especially if they witnessed intimate partner violence between mom and dad and saw one of the parents go away in handcuffs.
These create a sense of fear and children take in unhealthy messages that children may struggle with internally to make sense of it without the ability to talk about their fears and beliefs with either parent.
Supervised exchange is a structured way to ensure that everybody is treated fairly and equally so they learn how to make transitions between homes calmly and routinely, without uncertainty and fear. Supervision of the transition between Mom’s House and Dad’s House, provided by a trained professional monitor who is neutral, objective and child-centered, can bring that calm and routine to you and your children. This can help improve the relationship between parents and children, and preserve the child’s resilience.
Supportive, accessible, and affordable supervised exchanges are available at San Diego’s Hannah’s House 7 days a week with staffing by professional monitors. Learn more by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.