Search This Blog

Monday, December 7, 2015

Key Factor #6 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: Grievance Policy/Procedure

Consumers receiving court-ordered supervised visitation services need access to a process for expressing concerns about their case and the way it is being managed.
We have several mechanisms in place for consumer feedback. There is a Senior Supervisor on Saturday and Sunday who is assigned to assist clients with all concerns in service delivery. Program Coordinators fulfill that role Monday - Friday.
If the Senior Supervisor or a Program Coordinator cannot resolve a concern, the concern is then presented to the Program Director. If the Program Director is not able to resolve the concern, it is presented in an Executive Team meeting which includes Program Manager, Program Director, Assistant Director, and Executive Director.
If the Executive Team is unable to resolve the concern, the client makes a formal written request to the Board of Directors. That concern is then placed on the agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board, which occur quarterly.
Some items can't wait for resolution, so there is a procedure in place for Board member involvement and review outside the regular meeting schedule when an issue is time-sensitive.
Hannah's House also has a formal Feedback Procedure for Court Reports. That procedure is issued with every court report so that clients are able to quickly complete that process if they need corrections to the report or need clarification.
Family court matters are stressful enough for everyone involved without the provider adding stress to the situation by being unavailable or refusing to work toward resolving problems when they occur.
At Hannah's House, we make every effort to respect input from our clients. We welcome feedback and want to know how our services delivery, policies and procedures effect those we serve.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Key Factor #5 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: Forensic Record Keeping and Reports

Forensic science is any scientific field that is applied to the field of law. In the case of supervised visitation at Hannah's House, the areas of science are social science and behavioral science. Forensic scientists are tasked with the collection, preservation, and analysis of scientific evidence during the course of an investigation and all of that evidence is.related to, used in, or suitable to a court of law.
The provision of supervised visitation services requires 100% eye shot and earshot observation and documentation. The 2015 California Rules of Court sets forth Standard 5.20.
Uniform standards of practice for providers of supervised visitation
(a) Scope of service
This standard defines the standards of practice, including duties and obligations, for providers of supervised visitation under Family Code sections 3200 and 3200.5. Unless specified otherwise, the standards of practice are designed to apply to all providers of supervised visitation, whether the provider is a friend, relative, paid independent contractor, employee, intern, or volunteer operating independently or through a supervised visitation center or agency.
The goal of these standards of practice is to assure the safety and welfare of the child, adults, and providers of supervised visitation. Once safety is assured, the best interest of the child is the paramount consideration at all stages and particularly in deciding the manner in which supervision is provided. Each court is encouraged to adopt local court rules necessary to implement these standards of practice.
Nonprofessional providers are held to the same standard as professional providers in most areas of the standard. They are not required to document, maintain records or produce reports. Only professional providers are held to the record keeping and reports portion of the standard.
5.20 requirements are detailed clearly:
(1) Professional providers must keep a record for each case, including the following:
(A) A written record of each contact and visit;
(B) Who attended the visit;
(C) Any failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the visitation; and
(D) Any incidence of abuse as required by law.
(2) Case recordings should be limited to facts, observations, and direct statements made by the parties, not personal conclusions, suggestions, or opinions of the provider. All contacts by the provider in person, in writing, or by telephone with either party, the children, the court, attorneys, mental health professionals, and referring agencies should be documented in the case file. All entries should be dated and signed by the person recording the entry.
(3) If ordered by the court or requested by either party or the attorney for either party or the attorney for the child, a report about the supervised visit must be produced. These reports should include facts, observations, and direct statements and not opinions or recommendations regarding future visitation. The original report must be sent to the court if so ordered, or to the requesting party or attorney, and copies should be sent to all parties, their attorneys, and the attorney for the child.
(4) Any identifying information about the parties and the child, including addresses, telephone numbers, places of employment, and schools, is confidential, should not be disclosed, and should be deleted from documents before releasing them to any court, attorney, attorney for the child, party, mediator, evaluator, mental health professional, social worker, or referring agency, except as required in reporting suspected child abuse.
Hannah's House has a database of clients which includes the initial phone screening, intake information, and a phone log where all phone conversations are logged. Since the advent of email and the internet, electronic documentation has become the more common method of communication and all emails communication is maintained on all clients.
Supervisors complete Activity Reports during each visit and each exchange. Documentation on the Activity Report is completed at the time of service delivery and then reviewed in a weekly Quality Assurance meeting for completeness and accuracy.
When a court report is ordered or requested by any legal party to a case, the individual activity reports are compiled into one report document and distributed to all legal parties to the case. All phone logs, emails and in-person communication is also included in the court report.
Hannah's House provides supervised exchange services that are guided by the 5.20 Standard. However, it's important for consumers to know that, as of January 1, 2015, any reference to supervised exchange in the Rule were eliminated. This means that there is no standard for supervised exchanges.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Key Factor #4 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: Team Approach

When we began our research for program development in 1988, we found that one of the first common concerns expressed by the majority of parents, extended family members and professionals in the community related to the bias of professional monitors.
Users of the services experienced the providers as "taking sides." Sometimes it was a perception and sometimes it was an accurate report. We realized that there was no way in family disputes to ensure that both parties had a positive customer experience. We also realized that we had to develop a service delivery system that controlled for the perception or the reality of a professional provider "taking sides."
We decided to use a Team Approach to service delivery. This seemed like the best way to ensure that there were multiple perspectives and experiences of each family receiving services. It is human nature to become accustomed to a situation, to begin to generalize from our past experience in that situation, and then to lose accuracy and completeness in the experience.
We recognized that everyone has biases, prejudices, beliefs, and values that filter our daily experiences. It made sense to us that multiple professionals interacting with the same family would produce a much more accurate picture of parent-child relationships over time.
We also recognized that we all have had the experience of instantly liking or disliking someone. We knew this would happen for staff members and for clients. We decided early on that these responses would not dictate staffing assignments.
Staff members needs to be able to observe and document accurately regardless of personal reactions to someone. Skill development for a professional includes learning how to self-observe negative reactions to a person or behavior and then document without prejudice or editing.
Parents need to focus on just spending time with their children. Countless times over the past 27 years, parents have complained about the prejudice of a staff member. When we review the notes in these cases, 9 out of 10 times we find that the documentation provided a picture of a good parent and a positive parent-child relationship.
The parent was having a negative reaction to the Team Member and made the assumption that it meant the person didn't like the parent and that the Team Member would document with a negative tone. Imagine if we changed Team Members or assigned Team Members based on the requests of a parent. That would be bias or at the very least the appearance of bias.
Hannah's House has successfully used the Team Approach to forensic service delivery for over 27 years. We do assign one staff person to particular cases but only when there is a clearly documented medical reason for such an assignment.
We are the eyes and ears of the judge who will never meet the children, at least in most cases. We have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to provide the clearest possible picture of the family. The Team Approach helps us meet all of these obligations in a forensically validated manner.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Key Factor #3 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: Clear Policies and Procedures

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:
1 Philosophy of inclusion of both parents
2 Goal of normalizing divorce, separation, and child sharing
3 Equal treatment of both parents ordered to supervised visitation
4 Focus on the here and now for parents visiting children - references to the past or the future was stressful for the child
5 Sensitivity to the appearance of bias or the appearance of a conflict of interest
6 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 Calfornia 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 law, 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. You, the parent, are the only person who can ensure the the law is followed.
Unfortunately, there are still many attorneys who are unfamiliar with the standards for the provision of these services. If you have an attorney, make sure that your attorney is familiar with the standards and that he or she is recommending a professional who is, in fact, in compliance.
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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Key Factor #2 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: Controlling for Conflict of Interest and the Appearance of Conflict of Interest

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:
(1) Be financially dependent on the person being supervised;
(2) Be an employee of the person being supervised;
(3) 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
(4) 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:
1 Changing policies and procedures because they feel that the client really needs their help
2 Taking care of the children during visits as if they are there a babysitter instead of a professional neutral
3 Helping the client with parenting tasks during the visit
4 Developing an emotionally close and physically affectionate relationship with the adult client and or the children
5 Paying for food or gas for the client when that is not the policy
6 Using ones personal car for transporting the client when that is not the policy
Serious boundary violations with a client might include the following:
1 Dating
2 Renting a room or selling a house
3 Loaning or selling a car
4 Loaning money
5 Editing documentation and court reports to protect the client
6 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:
1 Background check / Trustline Certification
2 Insurance - auto and liability
3 Contract for Services
4 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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Key Factor #1 for Hannah's House Professional Supervised Visitation Services: CONTROLLING FOR BIAS

California Family Code 3200.5 and California Rules of Court 5.20 establish standards for professional providers of supervised visitation (PPSV). A search engine will readily find both. Consumers in need of these services need to understand the law.
One of the requirements of the PPSV is following all aspects of the law. Controlling for bias is one of those requirements.
Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. In family law cases with an order for supervised visitation, it is a PPSV who is prejudiced in favor of or against one party, the Petitioner, or the Respondent.
The only way to control for bias is to create a process that treats both parties equally from the very beginning.
Hannah's House conducts a screening with both parties prior to any face-to-face meetings. The screening may be done over the phone or via the website. The consumer chooses.
The screening is exactly the same for every person who completes it. The only differences occur because of different facts in each case. Each party on every case is given an equal opportunity to provide the necessary information.
The intake and orientation is the same for every person who completes it. Parents attend an in-person meeting. They will be in a group that includes both residential parents and visiting parents, but two parties to the same case will not participate in the same intake and orientation meeting.
Hannah's House provides supervised visitation and supervised exchanges. The variations in the intake process relate to the difference in those services.
The goal of the intake, orientation, and legal review process is to learn about the case, ensure both parties understand their rights and responsibilities, and to figure out how to keep stress down for the children.
Children are required to attend a Turtle Tour orientation. This provides the child with the opportunity to meet the Human and the Animal Staff, and to explore the family rooms, art and music room, and the snack shop!
The Turtle Tour is required so that children know in advance where they will be coming and what the place and the people are like. This helps control for bias because staff is assured the child is familiar with the setting so staff can just focus on the transitions from one parent to another.
100% of contact between Staff and clients is documented. Email, phone logs, and activity reports are completed at the time of contact.
All activity reports are reviewed weekly by a Quality Assurance Team in a regular QA meeting. The purpose of the review is to ensure accuracy and completeness in the documentation, and to identify any client or staff discrepancies that require intervention beyond that which occurred during service delivery.
The QA team consists of the Assistant Executive Director, Program Director, Program Manager, Program Coordinator - Scheduling, Program Coordinator - Reports and Record Keeping, and any PPSV who wants to attend.
Clients and staff members with discrepancies that occurred during service delivery during the previous week will be contacted by a staff person to address the discrepancy. Typically this contact occurs within 24-48 hours following the meeting.
There is a Quality Control function built into the system to ensure that the discrepancy contacts are made, completed, and documented for each client and staff person identified.
Hannah's House is a forensic social service agency where everything that is said and done can potentially become part of legal proceeding. We take that responsibility seriously and the first step in ensuring forensic accuracy in our service delivery is controlling for bias.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Key Factors for Hannah’s House Professional Supervised Visitation Services

Hannah's House provide services to parents who mistrust and/or dislike each other. Our job is to be a professional neutral. We must establish rapport and some basic trust with each parent, without creating mistrust on the part of the other parent.
Parents come to us from an adversarial experience where one of them 'won' and one of them 'lost'.
Sometimes the 'winner' comes out of court with the idea that they are in control of the situation. It is our very difficult job to help that parent understand that the judge has made orders that require both parents to follow laws and cooperate for the purpose of coparenting the child.
Sometimes the 'loser' comes out of court with the idea that they are criminal or least being treated like a criminal. It is our very difficult job to help that parent understand that the judge has made orders that require both parents to follow laws and cooperate for the purpose of coparenting the child.
In other words, the judge has made orders that accord rights and responsibilities for parenting and coparenting that apply equally to both parents.
We focus on several important factors to accomplish our goal of building rapport and creating trust:
1 Controlling for bias
2 Preventing conflict of interest
(including appearance of conflict of interest)
3 Clear policies and procedures
4 Team approach
5 Forensic reports and record keeping
6 Grievance policy/procedure
7 Standardization
Over the next several days I will talk about each one of these factors and discuss the policies, procedures and rationale for each one of them.