25 Making the Most of Visitation Between Children and Their Families

MAKING THE MOST OF VISITATION BETWEEN CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES An Excerpt from “Practice Notes” From the North Carolina Division of Social Services and the Family and Children’s Resorce Pro!ram olme # No$ % Visit Frequency Counts The frequency of parent-child visits has a lot to do with how children view their parents, how well they adapt to foster care, and how long they are in care. erce!tions o Birt# $rents. Researchers Kufeldt and Armstrong (1! found that the foster children whose #
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  MAKING THE MOST OF VISITATION BETWEEN CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES  An Excerpt from “Practice Notes” From the North Carolina Division of Social Services and the Family and Children’s Resorce Pro!ram olme # No$ % Visit Frequency Counts The frequency of parent-child visits has a lot to do with how children view their parents, how well they adapt to foster care, and how long they are in care. erce!tions o Birt# $rents . Researchers Kufeldt and Armstrong (1! found that the foster children whose #irth parents visited at least once a wee$ tended to rate their parents as normal or healthy. %n contrast, this same study found that children who were deprived of contact with their #irth parents and wanted additional visits rated their parents as pro#lematic. &hildren who saw their parents less than once a month felt they suffered as a result of not maintaining contact with their #irth parents (Kufeldt ' Armstrong, 1! . A%$!tin& to Foster C$re . The frequency with which they visit their parents also seems to affect foster childrens #ehavior. Researchers &antos and )ries (1* studied + foster children and found that children who were visited frequently (either once a wee$ or once every two wee$s ehi#ited fewer #ehavioral pro#lems than children who were visited infrequently (once a month or less or not at all. verall, children who had frequent contact with their parents showed less aniety and depression than children whose parents visits were either infrequent or noneistent (&antos ' )ries, 1* . er'$nency Outco'es . requency of visits also appears to affect what ultimately happens tofamilies. /hite and colleagues (10 eamined +1 closed case records of children under 1 years of age who had #een in custody of the 2evada 3ivision of &hild and amily 4ervices. The study eamined visit frequency, location, and social wor$er activity for each of the cases. /hite and colleagues found that children in care for less than 5 months received twice as many visits from their parents than children who were in care over 5 months. This suggests that more frequent parent-child visitation may #e associated with shorter foster care stays. $rent(Soci$) Wor*er Cont$ct . /hite and colleagues also found an interesting relationship  #etween the frequency of contacts social wor$ers had with parents and how often parents saw their children. 6arents of children in care less than 5 months had 5.+ contacts with their social wor$er per month, compared to 1.!! contacts per month for parents of children in care greater than 5 months. This seems to suggest that social wor$ers have some influence over visitation patterns and, indirectly, family outcomes.  F$ci)it$tin& Visits 7any agencies are well-equipped to esta#lish and facilitate visitation programs. 8owever, some are not. ollowing are some suggestions for assessing and enhancing visitation in your agency and practice.The foundation of a successful visitation program is the people who esta#lish and monitor visits9these individuals must #e properly informed a#out the #enefits of visitation and traineda#out visitation procedures (6er$ins ' Ansay, 1: .The first step in facilitating visitation should #e to set up a regular, written visitation schedule. /ritten schedules encourage #irth parents to adhere to the visitation plan and often lead to more visits (6er$ins ' Ansay, 1: . 4ince they are essential to visits, #irth and foster parents should #e directly involved in setting up visitation schedules. %nvolving them and respecting their preferences for visit times and locations demonstrates to parents that they are important mem#ers of the team.%ncreasing evidence also suggests that when the first visit is held immediately following  placement (within +: hours , #irth parents may #e more li$ely to show up for visits and more inclined to see their value ()allimore, 5 .4uccessful visitation also relies on accurate assessment of #irth parents strengths and needs. %n  &a'in! isits (or'  , ;oar (1: points out that most visitation plans assume that #irth  parents understand what their child goes through if they dont show up for a visit, and that  parents have leisure and recreation s$ills independent of drugs, alcohol, se, danger, and violence. ther common assumptions are that #irth parents $now how to< ã 6lay with their children ã Tal$ politely with their children ã =n>oy their childrens company ã 4eparate from the visit their frustration, shame, and humiliation over losing custody ã Read to children or read and understand court reports, contracts, priorities, ma>or and minor requirements?et these assumptions do not always hold true. @y overestimating parents a#ilities, visitation  planners can unwittingly undermine family reunification (;oar, 1: .Another important step is communicating a#out the visitation plan to all interested parties. This includes ensuring foster parents $now the visitation schedule and what is epected of them, eplaining visitation procedures and activities to #irth parents, and informing foster children that visits will #e only temporary reunions with family (Kessler ' )reene, 1 .  inally, merely providing families with an empty office in which to meet is seldom enough. Atthe very least, visiting rooms should contain comforta#le furniture, games, and toys. ;oar (1: suggests tailoring visitation plans to the interests of children and #irth parents they may have common activitiesBinterests that facilitate positive interactions (;oar, 1: . Docu'entin& Visits Regardless of how they go, it is important to comprehensively document visits. CAccurate and descriptive documentation of visitation patterns and progress serves the dual purpose of  providing clear evidence for discharge or termination of parental rightsC (/atten#erg, 1* .lic$ (1 suggests visit documentation should include information a#out< ã /ho participated and what activities too$ place ã The time the parent arrived and the length of the visit ã The interactions #etween the participants (level of affection ã The etent to which the parent eercised his or her role (setting limits, disciplining child,  paying attention to child ã /hether the social wor$er needed to intervene ã 8ow parent and child separated ã /hat happened after the visit (parents or childs reactions Con%itions T#$t O!ti'i+e Visitin& ã 4ocial wor$er is committed to visiting ã 4ocial wor$er has empathy for parents ã oster parentsB$in are committed to visiting ã Agency requires written plans for frequent visits ã Agency resources promote visiting this includes a room with comforta#le furniture and games or other activities for families(8ess ' 6roch, 1:: In )uencin& T#e Frequency o VisitsSoci$) ,or*ers  can do three things to promote frequent parent-child visits. The first is to try to schedule visits for times and locations that wor$ for all the parties involved9the #irth  parents, foster parents, children, and, if applica#le, the social wor$er or person monitoring the visit./hen setting up the visitation schedule for families, try to schedule as many visits as the  parents and other parties can reasona#ly attend. @ecause it places emphasis on ma$ing a case decision within one year, concurrent planning generates more urgency a#out scheduling frequent visits.The second thing social wor$ers can do to promote visitation is to strategically recruit, select, and train a pool of oster !$rents  who can support the goals and tolerate the uncertainties of concurrent planning. 3uring training and when children are placed in their homes, social wor$ers can help support fosterBadopt families #y having open, honest discussions with them a#out the ris$ they are ta$ing #y agreeing to #e C6lan @C (adoptive parents, guardians, or custodians when C6lan AC (reunification has not #een ruled out.  4ocial wor$ers should emphasiDe that the level of Cris$C for the relatives or foster parents is not quantifia#le. They should also ma$e certain foster parents understand how visits fit with concurrent planning and why they are important. /ithout foster parent support, visits (and therefore concurrent planning itself may #e less successful.The third thing social wor$ers can do to promote visitation is to have frequent and quality contact with the #irth parents. %n  Factors in )en!th of Foster Care* (or'er Activities and  Parent+Child isitation , /hite, Al#ers, and @itonti (10 found a lin$ #etween how often social wor$ers saw #irth parents and how often those parents saw their children. This same study also found a lin$ #etween the frequency of visits and the length of time children spent infoster care< frequent visits seem to #e tied to shorter stays in out-of-home care. Su!er-isors  can support social wor$ers in their efforts to promote visitation #y helping them eamine their personal eperiences and #iases toward visit planning. 4upervisors can also helpsocial wor$ers ensure Cthat visiting plans are individualiDed and that the opportunities  provided for parent-child contact eceed the minimum required whenever indicatedC (8ess, 1:: . /ith their social wor$ers, supervisors should carefully eplore any plans for using visits Cto reward parent progress or to test parental interestC (8ess, 1:: .%n addition to monitoring the activities of individual wor$ers, supervisors should assess whether their agency as a whole systematically promotes frequent visitation (/hite, Al#ers, '@itonti, 10 .Although social wor$ers and supervisors roles in visitation cannot #e underestimated, they are not the only ones who affect the frequency of visits. &ourts also eert considera#le influence in this area. or eample, the courts in 4anta &lara &ounty, &alifornia order that  parents visit their children two to three times a wee$ in order to maintain #onds. This puts considera#le pressure on the social wor$ers and foster parents to $eep up with the visitation  pace (/atten#erg, 1* . W#$t to W$tc# or %n order to practice concurrent planning in a legal, honest, fair, and effective manner, certain mista$es related to visitation must #e avoided<1. Equ$tin& concurrent !)$nnin& ,it# $%o!tion $n% t#ere ore 'ini'i+in& reuni ic$tione orts . This can lead casewor$ers to schedule fewer visits.5. Assu'in& $ssess'ent too)s ,i)) in $))i.)y !re%ict c$se outco'es . This may lead to minimiDing reunification efforts and decreasing visitations. Eltimately, the childs parentswill support or prove wrong the assessed placement outcome.F. In-estin& in $ !$rticu)$r outco'e . Allow the case to evolve from the familys decisions and actions.+. Desi&nin& c$se !)$ns t#$t $re not $'i)y(centere% . 6ut another way, the agency ta$es on responsi#ility for things the parents should #e doing. 6arents have #oth rights and responsi#ilities. &oncurrent planning supports their active role in visitation, engaging in services, and planning for their childs future.
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