Keeping Your Child Out of the Middle

Parents living together and raising children together in 1 home talk with each other nearly every day about the behavior and well-being of their child - it's called coparenting. Parents living in 2 homes with a child going back and forth do not - it's still coparenting.  That daily conversation ensures both parents are sharing and learning about the child's fears, challenges, accomplishments, and needs. 2-home coparents need to make an effort to create those opportunities for information exchange. Children have a unique relationship with each of their parents and so the conversation between the parents brings an important focus to all of the child's needs, not just some of them.

The breakup of an adult relationship with children is a breakup of the whole family. Children are shaken by the sudden understanding that life can change dramatically and love can, too. If mommy and daddy can quit loving each other, can they quit loving the child? The child may feel responsible for the breakup or just long for the family to live together again.  These tumultuous feelings influence the way the child sees the world in dramatic ways. 

Children know when parents actively dislike each other or do not accept or respect each other. The pressure this places on the child can be unbearable. Children begin to tell each parent what they want or need to hear. Honesty and spontaneity are no longer safe. Children make this change for emotional survival because they feel so scared and overwhelmed by all the negative feelings swirling around them. 

Sometimes children complain about one parent to the other regardless of the family living situation. Almost all parents who coparent together in 1 home have experienced the child who, suddenly and without reason, will only allow mommy or daddy to do something, Some of those battles are worth fighting to assert parental authority and require the child to cope with the reality that they are not the one in charge. Some of those battles are not worth fighting and the parent just complies.

This same behavior happens with parents who coparent in 2 homes but they often don't deal with it together or talk with each other about the behavior. It is essential that they have these conversations. The potential for a negative split between the parents is high, especially given the adversarial approach to family decisions practiced in our family courts. This places the child squarely in the middle with too much responsibility and too much pressure. 

If parents are unable to have regular conversations with each other about their child's needs, it is important to find someone who can help facilitate such meetings. This may require a professional: a pastor, a teacher, a trusted elder family member, or a therapist with coparenting expertise. Keeping your child out of the middle requires thoughtfulness and commitment from both parents.

Screen Time with Young Children

Coparents living in separate homes face special challenges when trying to figure out a healthy and consistent approach to screen time for young children. It's important that the coparents are talking with each other and reaching some basic agreements on how to handle screen time in each of the homes. This is especially important because of the impact screen time can have on sleep and behavior for young children who need routine and consistency to thrive in both homes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has some excellent resources to help parents make good decisions about screen time with young children.  The AAP policy statement on Media and Young Minds offers a review of the current research and literature with an overview of the areas of concern parents need to address. There are no absolutes for every single child or every single family. Rather there is an overview of the critical areas for consideration in developing a family media plan and approach. Multiple sources identify the importance of interactive media use for young children. Mayo Clinic also offers some ideas for parents looking for information about how to guide their young children in developing a healthy relationship with digital media.

Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the healthy development of young minds than electronic media because there are no limits to the imagination and exploration that emerges in such play. Pay attention each day to the balance in your child's playtime between unstructured playtime both indoors and out. Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder and he offers valuable information to parents about the importance of time in nature that can add more ideas for balance for your young child.

An article from the Washington Post reviews the importance of unstructured playtime for young children and offers some examples of approaches from other parts of the world.

Coparents can best help their young children develop a healthy approach to screen time through dialogue and collaboration. If you are in a coparenting relationship without communication or with conflicted communication, you might consider initiating a facilitated coparenting process with a Coparenting Coach.  Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers this service as part of the specialized services developed for coparents raising 2-home children; and the Family Resource Center at Hannah's House sponsors a free 2-hour coparenting workshop monthly.

 

From the Therapist's Desk

MORE ON RESILIENCE

The research tells us that exposure to even chronic traumatic events, like an entrenched Family Court battle, does not have to predict a negative outcome! What predicts a negative outcome is how we think about and talk about the event(s). For a child, what predicts a negative outcome is how parents teach them to think about and talk about traumatic events.

In other words, resilience can be taught. We can learn how to be less negative, less emotionally reactive and extreme. The key is in what we tell ourselves -- and our children -- about experiences, emotions, and thoughts in response to a potentially traumatic event.

When we are children, we process emotions in this order: feel, act, talk, think. As adults, hopefully, we have learned to process emotions in this order: feel, think, talk, act. Emotional development including emotional intelligence is a complex and long-term project! The two most important jobs for parents beyond basic safety and security are guiding our children in the development of self-soothing and self-control skills.

Parents teach children how to respond to stress and to the unexpected. For example, parents who rush to the aid of a child every time they fuss or cry, who make every fall, bump and bruise catastrophic will probably raise children who are not very confident and not very resilient. The child learns that discomfort means emergency. Discomfort means threat, danger, loss. Emergency = anxiety and fear. Action = flight or fight.

Parents who hear the fuss or cry, or see the fall - - and wait to see what happens next - - are more likely to raise a competent, confident, and resilient child. Why?

The first parent rushes to the child, stress on their face and in their voice and exclaim: ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU HURT?

The second parent probably stays where they are, face calm, voice tone calm, waits a little bit, and says: You're okay. You're okay. You're fine.

The first parent has intervened in the child's own processing of the experience so quickly and with such intensity that the child probably didn't even have a chance to notice his or her own reaction to the event. Instead the child is likely to take on the parent's perception: I'm hurt, this is awful, I can't take care of myself, I'm not in control.

The second parent allows the child to have his or her own experience of the event. Hmmmm. What happened? How does that feel? Am I okay? Mom/Dad seems to think I'm fine. Am I fine? Huh! I guess I am okay. I can do this. This isn't so bad. I can figure this out.

In a difficult family break up and challenging family restructuring, parents have multiple opportunities to teach their children how to process chronic stress. Some high conflict coparenting struggles are so prolonged and intense that the child grows up in the equivalent of a war zone with armed conflict (intense verbal and sometimes physical battles between Mom and Dad) and the equivalent of Improvised Explosive Devices (litigation maneuvers, CPS reports, disparaging declarations, false or exaggerated allegations) as the back drop to life.

If parents are immature and undeveloped, without mature self-soothing and self-control skills, it is impossible to help children develop those skills.We cannot teach what we have not learned.

Parents must learn to frame adversity as a challenge, not as a disaster. Parents can then become more flexible, more likely to face the challenge, deal with it, learn from it, grow and move on with more skills and more depth and more understanding. Parents then model and teach these vital competencies to their children.

Hannah's House offers a full range of therapy and coaching programs through the Transitions Family Program and the Bridges Family Program. Transitions offers comprehensive therapy services specifically developed for parents and children involved in Family Court. Bridges designs home and community based coaching and other support services to meet the needs of all families coping with the challenges of a family break-up.

From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY to....Mom....or....Dad....

Those words spoken by a family court judge are devastating to the parent who has just lost their right to make decisions about critical aspects of their child's life:

1  Child care/preschool
2  Education: K-12
3  Medical health
4  Mental health
5  Dental health
6  Religious/spiritual education
7  Enrichment activities

The parent who loses legal custody will usually still have access to records about their child in each of these life areas. Sometimes the judge allows the non custodial parent to access records directly from providers, and sometimes the judge directs the custodial parent to provide the information. There are circumstances where the judge orders that the non custodial parent have no access to information about any legal aspect of the child's life, but this is more unusual.

It is important to know that an allegation of domestic violence is extremely serious. A Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order, when granted, results in immediate award of 100% legal and physical custody to the protected parent. Such a finding may also result in the judge dealing with records access in a more restrictive way because of concerns about health, safety, and welfare.

Specifically, if the judge finds that a parent has committed acts of domestic violence against the child, the other parent, or the child's siblings within the past five years the judge, by law, must presume that the parent who committed the domestic violence cannot have joint or sole legal or physical custody of a child.

Permanent restraining orders require special protections for a longer period for the child and the custodial parent. This is why legal custody cannot be granted in a case where domestic violence has resulted in such an order.

It is critical that non custodial parents understand their rights and responsibilities in the realm of legal custody. If the judge has granted you access to records, you have the right to directly contact providers to request information about your child. 

However, if you contact a provider with an attitude of entitlement, anger, and demands you will very likely end up losing your right to directly contact providers. And you should. That is where the word responsibility comes in.

You have a responsibility to behave appropriately with any provider who has a direct relationship with your child. Every word you say and the way you say it will effect your child's life. Take this responsibility seriously and prepare yourself for contact. Understand that the other parent will probably have let the provider know about the legal custody situation. Don't be surprised and hurt by that. You would do the same if you were the custodial parent. In fact, that is the responsibility of the custodial parent.

When you contact a provider and discover that the provider does not understand that you can have access to records then politely ask the provider how they would like to receive a copy of the order so that the provider is confident they are complying with the law. Reassure them that you understand their position and that you want to work with them to ensure a good relationship for the sake of your child.

What if the custodial parent won't give you the information about the child's providers? If you don't have the information, you must get it from the custodial parent. That is the only choice you have.  Any attempt on your part to investigate or interrogate will likely be experienced as harassing or stalking. Don't do it. Instead, use legal channels to get the information. Seek help from an attorney or the Family Law Facilitator's office at the court house. Read your orders carefully and make sure you understand what is and is not allowed.

If the custodial parent won't give you information about the providers in the life of your child, it can be very tempting to coax the information out of your child. Don't do that to your child. Legal custody is shared between adults and the child will feel the improper nature of your inquiry even if the child isn't old enough to understand what you are trying to do. Don't put your child in the position of coparenting with you. Don't put your child in the position of telling you secrets. Don't put your child in the position of choosing between mom or dad. It is detrimental to the child and can damage that child's relationship with both parents. 

Your child can talk with you about anything that they want to and they need to be able to with an absolute sense of trust and confidence.  Children should not be asked by either parent to keep secrets as that is a terrible burden for the child. Treasure the openness and spontaneity of your child and treat them with respect. Don't take advantage. Don't exploit your child. Communicate with your coparent with appropriate coparenting information in a timely manner and keep the child out of the middle.

If you are frustrated, feeling helpless and powerless because of your custody situation, reach out for support. It exists. You don't have to go it alone. You don't have to burn out your family and friends. A word of caution though. Some support offered to parents is divisive and has a goal of reinforcing the battle, the competition, and winning. If that's what you want, you can find that kind of help. But that is not what is best for your child. Your approach to support and counsel needs to be child-centered. 

If you want a positive future for your child, peace in your family, and a loving coexistence for your child between his or her two homes, then find support that is balanced and respectful of the needs of your child. 

The Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers free support group for parents and offers facilitated coparenting meetings for coparents. 

From the Therapist's Desk

Parental Conflict: Stay Together for the Kids or Separate?

Some researchers on divorce and family breakup in high conflict families have looked at the question many parents ask. Is it better for the children if the parents separate? Or is it better for the children if the parents stay together?

The answer? Conflict and negativity harm children. Hostility and parental warmth are at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. The hostility end of the parenting spectrum is devastating to children. The parental warmth end of the spectrum is as necessary as food and water for the health of a child.

Conflict between parents is harmful to children regardless of the living arrangements. It is estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of children experience high conflict during the marriage of their parents. Some parents are able to reduce conflict after the breakup of the family. Unfortunately, some parents are unable to reduce conflict.

Sometimes it is both parents who continue the war zone mentality of a battle to the death of the opponent. And sometimes it is only one parent who continues to compete for the win. And it only takes one parent to continue the hostility and conflict in the coparenting relationship. It only takes one parent to create an environment in the home that feels like a war zone: threatening, abusive, blaming, accusatory, and quietly or loudly violent -- whether physical or verbal or emotional -- with a child feeling caught in the middle of the battle.

Researchers have found that parental warmth is the one parenting action/expression/attitude that can truly protect a child from adult conflict. Parental warmth only takes one parent. If either Mom or Dad can make that commitment to care for self, and focus on the children, then the potential for enough expressions of parental warmth are high!

When both parents are preoccupied or overwhelmed by emotional challenges and emotional reactivity related to the adult conflict then the outcome for the children will almost always be negative. Overwhelmed and preoccupied parents practice poor parenting because they tend to use harsher discipline than they normally would or use ineffective discipline.

Your children deserve peace in at least one of their homes! Be the bigger person. Practice positive parenting and cooperative coparenting regardless of the other parent's choices. It only takes one parent to stop criticizing the other parent; to stop analyzing ways to win; to stop making money more important than peace; to start treating children like people instead of property; to start setting and maintaining healthy boundaries between Moms House and Dads House.

Even better if both Mom and Dad realize that a hostile family environment is destructive for everyone, but especially the children. Parents make choices. Parents are not forced to be angry or hostile or self-centered or self righteous.

If you are overwhelmed, feeling negative, and able to admit that reality to yourself then get some support and help that is positive. Conflict hurts children. Peace nurtures children. It's not mysterious. Choose peace in your home.

From the Executive Director's Desk

IT DOESN'T NECESSARILY TAKE TWO!

Family law cases are often designated "High Conflict" because of repetitive litigation and a chronic state of seemingly high tension between the co-parents. Unfortunately, many judges assume that both parents are equally responsible for the conflict. This is not the case when one of the parent's anger is fueled by revenge, maladaptive mourning, and/or a personality disorder. In such cases, the source of the conflict exists within just one of the co-parents rather than between them. In these case, the unmitigated negativity in that one parent gives the entire case/family the "feel" of a high conflict situation. Thus, one parent may continually be swept along in the tumultuous currents of emotion and tension generated solely by the other parent. 

How do you know if this is happening to you? The Honorable Donna J. Martinson is a Judge in British Columbia who advocates a change in the overall system to provide High Conflict cases and the children in them the attention they deserve. While Judge Martinson is focused on changes in the judicial approach, some of the ideas she raises are important for each coparent to seriously consider as well. 

Sit down with someone who is mature, neutral, intelligent, AND uninvolved and talk with them about your answers to a series of questions. You will notice that these questions focus on your behavior, not the behavior of the other coparent. Be honest and answer these questions as directly and straightforwardly, factually, as possible without explanation or defense.

  • Has your court case becomes the major focus of your life?
  • Are you in battle mode most of the time?
  • Do you blame the other parent, view the other parent with contempt, and see yourself as a victim?
  • Do you want to control the other parent and control what happens when the child is with them?
  • Are you focused on the past, using inflammatory, blaming language in affidavits and/or testimony
  • Are the facts often distorted, either minimized or exaggerated, and your anger palpable?
  • Are the children encouraged to support you in a number of ways including showing them court material, encouraging them to contact the court to support your position, and even bringing them to court?
  • Have you recruited friends and relatives to join in the mudslinging?
  • Do you attempt to delay the proceedings by changing lawyers or deciding late in the proceedings to be self-represented, filing last minute materials, coming late to court, or deliberately being unprepared?
  • Are there highly charged, emotional proceedings in the courtroom, with allegations made, with your supporters gathered to cheer you on?
  • Do you attempt to dominate the process and to treat the other person with contempt?
  • Do you attempt to sabotage professional assessments or interventions by undermining the credibility of the professional(s) by unilaterally involving other professionals and by not cooperating or making accusations?
  • Do you involve the police and/or child welfare authorities when there is no danger?
  • Do you make unjustified complaints about the conduct of the professionals involved,including the opposing lawyer, the assessor, and the judge, to their professional disciplinary bodies?
  • Do you try to involve the media in support of your "cause.”

If you find that you are engaging in these behaviors then you are probably a High Conflict person yourself. On the other hand, if you are the one getting hooked, overwhelmed and swept along, then get some help and support to ground yourself and find some equilibrium. It is critical to stop reacting, maintain calm, and respond only when and to what is necessary in terms of coparenting children.

Each coparent can only control his or her own behavior with the child, with the court and toward the other coparent. So get the focus on yourself and your behavior and make the changes you need to disengage from the conflict. 

Hannah's House has FREE support groups for Moms and Dads who are co-parenting 2-home children. Child care is provided. Dad's Group is Wednesday night from 6-7 pm and Mom's Group is Friday night from 530-7 pm. The groups are open to any Mom or Dad with 2-home kids!

From the Therapist's Desk

RISK AND RESILIENCE: Stop the Conflict

Some parents keep the conflict in the family home going because they refuse to move out. They are concerned about the STATUS QUO in terms of child custody and property. So they stay in the family home, refusing to move, so that they can tell the judge "but your honor I was the one who took my child to the doctor last week!" Of course that parent is not going to tell the judge that, until last week, the parent didn't even know the name of the doctor. Or the parent is focused on property "I don't want to be accused of abandoning the home because it will be used against me!" Or the parent is focused on punishing the other parent for causing the family breakup. 

There are laws in place to protect parental rights when a parent leaves the home.  The single most important protection you can offer your children is to stop the conflict. Once the conflict is stopped or reduced, both parents have a responsibility to the child to ensure contact with the other parent. It is a parental responsibility  to reach out regularly and respectfully to either offer or request time with the children.  If you cannot exchange the children without tension, use a safe exchange location like Hannah's House where you can do your drop offs and pickups without any contact and with the support of a professional. 

Both parents should use email to communicate offers and requests for parenting time. Email is the best way to maintain a record of contact for the Court, which could be helpful if your coparenting partner is continuing the conflict. And email is a good way to make sure you are keeping your communication brief, clear, and focused only on possible days and times. Check yourself carefully to make sure you are not using emails about coparenting to judge, preach, chastise, or blend any adult concerns with coparenting needs. 

There are also more robust communication methods specifically designed for parents sharing children between two homes: www.talkingparent.com and www.ourfamilywizard.com.  The first is free and the second is $99 annually for each parent. Sometimes the Court orders that parents utilize one these methods but they can be done voluntarily.

The Court makes custody decisions based on several factors. One of those is the basic understanding that children need close and continuing contact with both of their parents. It is in the best interest of the child to have the love, nurture, and care of both parents and their extended families. 

Moms and Dads set the tone for positive parenting and cooperative coparenting by the way they leave the home and the way they communicate about the children. from the very beginning of the separation.  Be thoughtful every time you begin to communicate with your coparent. Keep the focus on the children and on your parenting time. Parents have a choice about whether to continue to expose their children to hostility and conflict in the family. Choose calm and peace for the sake of the children.

Say yes whenever possible. If your coparent asks for financial assistance for activities, school, daycare, dental or medical care, or therapy/counseling, JUST SAY YES! Don't say no because you don't want it used against you - "it will set a precedent!" Yes, it probably will. A precedent that you will support your child without being ordered by a Court to do so; that you will put your child first! Familiarize yourself with the laws about legal custody and best interest of the child so that you feel more confident. Attend free classes on divorce and family law. Consult with a professional mediator.

Instead of automatically retaining an attorney, start with a mediator. There are an abundance of excellent mediators who are also attorneys and can help with the entire process. Mediation keeps the costs of a family breakup down in every way possible: emotional, psychological, physical, and financial. Hiring an attorney starts a path to litigation and an adversarial approach to your family breakup that may be difficult to stop.

And the fighting has to stop, for the sake of the child. Adults get second chances in life. Children often do not get that second chance when the chaos and conflict in the family doesn't stop in time. Instead, they grow up in a war zone and the damage is done. Parents cannot go back and protect that child's physical, emotional, psychological, and neurological development. If you start with mediation, there is a better chance to stop the conflict and find a more peaceful resolution process.

Parents have a chance every day to protect their children from the adult drama. Parents have a chance every day to affirm the child's need to have a relationship with both parents. Parents have a chance every day to take the high road and be a moral, ethical, and kind person.

So put your child first. That means finding peaceful resolutions on the adult concerns as quickly as possible. If you choose litigation over mediation, make sure that is absolutely essential for the immediate protection of your children and not to soothe your own hurt ego or injured feelings. If you become intent on litigation to "win" a war and "prove" that you are right, there is absolutely no question that your child will suffer. Make your parenting decisions in the context of parental responsibility to safeguard your child's right to have a childhood rather than your need for revenge. 

After all, protecting your child's right to a joyful and loving childhood is the most important responsibility a parent has.

From the Coparenting Coach's Desk - Free Workshop

Hannah's House is offering a free coparenting class this Saturday May 20, 2017 from 10am - 12pm. The topic? "Helping Children Thrive During a Family Breakup? RSVP required as the seating is limited. Certificates will be issued. RSVP HannahsHouseSD@gmail.com with WORKSHOP in the subject line.

Here is an overview of some of the issues that will be addressed during the workshop!

Children who get caught in the middle during family break-up are at risk for mental, emotional, and even physical health compromise depending on several important factors. Age at the time of the trauma, co-parents ability to get the child out of the middle and keep them out of the middle, and protective factors in the child's life are critical to long-term healthy adjustment. 

Younger children, in general, tend to fare better if the parents are able to act like grown ups and take responsibility for the decisions they made that placed their child in a difficult family situation. If a parent continues to blame the other parent and hold themselves faultless beyond a year after the break-up, the child is less likely to make an adequate adjustment. Parents are role models and most want to teach their child to be fair and responsible in relationships. "Do as I say and not as I do" is a sure way to breed confusion, resentment, and acting-out or acting-in for children; especially when the negativity is directed at the child's Mom or Dad. A simple question for a young child: How can you hate that person so much and not hate me? That's my Mom! That's my Dad! If you can quit loving him/her, can you quit loving me? 

If a parent is too immature, too cutoff from a support system, or troubled by undiagnosed/untreated mental health problems to provide adequate care and protection for the young child, that child may have no escape from the emotional war zone. And children who grow up in a war zone suffer long term emotional, mental and physical health consequences because there is no break from the tumult and the stress. 

Pre-teens and teens are often more compromised than young children by the family break-up. Parents in the midst of intense emotional upheaval tend to treat the older child as a sounding board or a confidante and are more likely to pressure them to take sides in the conflict. It's easier for a parent to justify or even ignore the burden of putting a teen the position of an adult than it is with a young child. The good news for the older child? He or she is much more likely to have protective factors that can mediate the negative effect of a toxic parent, because they often have relationships with caring adults outside the family at school and in the larger community! 

Parents with children who are in a relationship that is troubled owe it to themselves and owe it to their children to learn as much as possible about how to make the transition from a family who lives together to a family who lives apart in an informed and thoughtful way. Sometimes that doesn't seem possible because a specific problem like domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness is at the root of the break-up. 

If you are a parent facing the transition of a family break-up, whatever the situation, reach out for support and information! You do not have to do it alone. There are many people who have done it successfully, and many people working on making the same transition. Learn what helps and hurts children who are the age of yours. Find out what kind of co-parenting relationship might work best in your situation. Investigate all of the alternatives available to avoid the trauma of Family Court litigation. The resources are there for you and for your children.

From the Executive Director's Desk

May is National Supervised Visitation Awareness Month and Hannah's House San Diego kicked off our awareness campaign with a Peace In Our Family Walk-a-Thon that lasts for the full month of May, 1 - 31.

Since June 1, 1988, our work with families has been guided by the words of St. Augustine: "Peace in society depends upon peace in the family."  Peace in the family is our vision, our mission, and our daily goal.

The primary purpose of our Peace In Our Family Walk-a-Thon is to encourage family members and people who feel like family to each other to walk and talk together as frequently as possible. We want to promote a simple, peaceful, fun and healthy daily activity that everyone in the family can do together -- taking a walk together.

Peace is available to all of us in each moment if we are able to calm our mind and body, focus on self-awareness, and then connect deeply to our own self and to the selves of others in our life.

I invite you to join us in our vision to create peace in our society by creating peace in our family everyday.

We designed a t-shirt for the walk-a-thon that is available free to anyone who wants to walk this month for Peace in Our Family.

Simply email HannahsHouseSD@gmail.com with #PeaceInOurFamily in the subject line and we will contact you to arrange for t-shirts for your family.

Screenagers: Coping with the Intrusion of Tech into Everyday Life

Event Summary by Mary Mulvihill, Ph.D. 

The May 13thlocal showing of “Screenagers”, a new documentary on teen screen use, by pediatrician, Dr. Delaney Ruston, Seattle, was sponsored by Hannah’s House, a local non-profit. Hannah’s House serves dual custodyand high conflict families, often referred by family court for mandated treatment. Complexco-parenting issues arise during these protracted custody battles. Susan Griffin LMFT, Director, put together the screenings (morning session for professional CEU’s and afternoon session for parents). CAMFT, San Diego Chapter was a co-sponsor with San Diego Psychological Association. After viewing the film, subject matter experts presented on their respective specialty areas followed by a panel discussion.

Angie Coulter LMFT, MT-BC & Marc Rosenberg BCBA MFTI, personable young family therapists, presentedhow they address the common  digital dilemmas in their Encinitas-based private practices and their work with charter schools.  They reviewed signs of screen addiction, including their impact on learning and provided excellent behavioral strategies to moderate screen use. Aggressive counter reactions are sometimes seen when device access is restricted. An interesting sub-group is teens on the autistic spectrum, who are drawn todigital devices to cope with social awkwardness and where parents often appreciate the  peace and containment that comes from teens becoming absorbed in digital devices or games. There are many things parents can do, form being a good role model to providing alternate recreational activities. Marc & Angie provided down to earth advice about managing this issue within the family system

Mary Mulvihill Ph.D.  a Professor in the Graduate School of Public Health at SDSU, brought a public health approach, using the example of distracted driving, which is often modeled by parents, and picked up easily by teens without timely, thoughtful intervention. She presented a 5 Step Habit Breaker Intervention protocol, that is simple and can help guide a desired habit change. Based on operant behavior theory, this protocol uses observations, education & goal setting, cue alteration, reinforcement and/or punishment, & coaching to rewire the brain and form a newdigital habit.  This protocol can be used in private practice with guidance from the therapist, to promote change. Changing one digital behavior often generalizes to others, which can them be focused on specifically.

Ethan Marcus J. D., CFLS,  an expert in familylaw (and former stand-up comedian), brought  in the legal perspective for families trying to work out custody arrangements in family court. Since the portion of assets assigned to the children are prorated to each parent depending on how much custodial time they have,  an adversarial elementcan easily be activated. During family dissolution, often there is maladaptive mourning, which manifests in high conflict and other troublesome child or parent behaviors.  Kids who vent on social media, may find their posted comments used incourt proceedings. Attorneys have to educate judges, one by one,  about what environmental supports, including digital device rules, are healthy for the child. Adherence to these can then form a basis for the court awarding more or less custodial time and financial resources to a particular parent. Digital device access is new area for the court to consider.

Panel Discussion: Moderator  Susan Griffin LMFT brought up the importance of parental engagement in their children’s digital use, and a need for clinicians to assess that use. Important information can be gained about what is happening and affecting the child’s welfare. For example,  a case where a divorced father, anxious about losing connection to  his children, was found to be texting his daughter up to 80 times during the school day. There was a consensus that very often parents do not know what their children are really consuming online, and how important it is for them to become engaged in finding out.

Especially important is maintain parent access to digital devices by knowing the passwords, so they can be accessed if needed. A school psychologist brought up a recent threat assessment involving a 5th grade girl, where the parents were not aware of her worrisome online communications, and deeply shocked to see them.

Dr. Mulvihill clarified in response to a query the risks of hands free phone use (as high as drunk driving, but lower than texting &driving) vs. talking to a passenger, listening to music, or podcasts (all lower than hands free phone use).

There was considerable interest in howMarc Rosenberg & Angie  Coulter negotiate and implement parent-child behavioral contracts as one approach, which needs to be done with youth input, family discussion and good timing.  They noted that often parent’s also have a “screen addiction” issue, poignantly shown by a young child describing conversing with a parent on their device. Parents can get immersedandneglect kids, so they need to look at their own screen behavior, as well as their children’s. screen behavior.

The Problematic and Risky Internet Use Screening Scale (PRIUSS) assessment tool for assessing screen use in an office setting was recommended. Susan Griffin also felt that some addiction measures, which could be modified for “process” addictions might be useful and appropriate. It was discussed that engaging with parents and teens to review phone content together during therapy sessions might be useful in some situations but this raises questions for informed consent (including office forms) and client privacy which would need to be addressed.

A participant brought up a need to find a new discourse about digital devices, so it was not framed as an adversarial parent-child (or student/teacher situation) issue. A language with which to talk about this issue is still developing.

There was a concern raised about the teen drama series, 13 Reasons Why.  Dr. Mulvihill stressed the importance of watching shows with teens, or even playing their video games with them to see what they experience. This may open up discussion and be important training in media literacy, auseful  skill, given the volume and intensity  of media, that must typically be digested.

 She also brought up clinician/parent awareness of widespread viewing and  social media sharing of porn, among y ever younger boys. The potential adverse impact onbrain circuitry for sexual functioning is notable.  Erectile dysfunction in otherwise healthy young men may  result after frequent, prolonged porn consumption.

The panel wrapped up with  asking for comments from the sparse group of  professional attendees about why they thought only 10 professionals (vs. 60 parents) signed up for the Screenagers event. It was felt that parents see the effects of screen overuse and must deal with these behaviors on a daily basis, while clinicians have to ask about it to even know what is going on. With the exception of obvious sleep disruption, digital device over use may not be on most clinician’s radar yet, as far as the importance to children’s health & well-being (sleep habits, study habits, social skills development, process addiction, etc.). The consensus was that digital device overuse is an emerging area, which is new for many, and not commonly viewed as part of the clinical domain until very problematic. Future trainings need to continue,  participants thought, especially as technology evolves, affecting all of us  - clients& therapists, every day in so many ways.

Overall, it was a stimulating and thought provoking discussion about an emerging issue in clinical practice.

Stay tuned for future CE trainings and public education events on this timely topic!

 Thanks to Susan Griffin, LMFT, and her staff at Hannah’s House for planning & leading this interesting event!

From the Therapist's Desk

RISK AND RESILIENCE FOR CHILDREN DURING A FAMILY BREAKUP

The stress of the initial separation is the first opportunity parents have to make good decisions about taking care of children. Parents tend to either tell their children too little or tell their children too much. Family breakup is traumatic for children and can lead to feelings of confusion, sadness, depression, anger, and fear.

Parents usually tell their children too little because they have no idea what to say. Parents usually tell their children too much because the parents are so angry or hurt that they want the children to know what the other parent did wrong and, overtly or covertly, pressure the child to choose sides with them against the other parent.

How do you find the amount of information that is just right?

Here are the messages children need to hear:
1 Mommy and Daddy aren't going to live together anymore.
2 We will each have our own home and you will live with both of us.
3 Mommy and Daddy will take good care of you.
4 Mommy and Daddy can still be friends but we need to live apart to be the very best parents we can be for you.
5 Mommy and Daddy will always love you.

If your children ask you a question and you don't know the answer, be honest. Tell them "I don't know, but Mommy and Daddy will figure it out and let you know as soon as we can."

If your children ask you a question that makes your blood pressure rise, or your heart break, tell them "that sounds like a really important question, sweetie, and I need some time to think about that. I will talk to you about that later." As quickly as possible after this moment, talk to someone who can listen with maturity and thoughtfulness and help you process your feelings and figure out a response for your child.

Include your children in at least some information sharing as soon as you have made some decisions that are specific. Questions that need to be answered before you talk to your children?
Who is moving?
When is Mommy or Daddy moving out?
Will the children stay in the same school?
What will change and what will stay the same for the children?

If you are having fights in front of the children, then you are probably going to need to talk to them before all of those initial questions are answered. The problem is, if you are fighting in front of the children then you are already putting your children at risk. You probably know that you are hurting your children by fighting in front of them but you cannot stop yourself.

If you have already made mistakes or if you are afraid to talk to your children or you have no idea what to say, get some information. There are many great sources of information. There is a free online coparenting class at www.uptoparents.org. Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers consultation, coaching, and classes for parents who need help talking to their children about these important issues.

Talk to someone as soon as you can because your children will fare much better if they have some basic information to help them understand what is happening.

From the Executive Director's Desk

PARENTS AREN'T NEUTRAL ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN OR THEIR COPARENT

Parents love their children, and feel strongly about providing care and support to help them. Parents aren't neutral about their children. Yet parents who have experienced a family breakup and are sharing parenting responsibilities with a co-parent living in a different home, frequently rush to reassure themselves and other people "Oh, no, I don't ever say anything bad about my co-parent, I am neutral!!"

Really? I don't believe it, because it's not believable. Try replacing the word "neutral" with one of its synonyms to understand how ingenuine the use of this word is: impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, objective, disinterested, detached, impersonal, unemotional, indifferent, uncommitted... 

A parent's "neutral" response feels like being ignored or brushed off by the child. All that child feels is the sudden chilly disconnect of their beloved mom or dad. Believe me, "neutral" responses to your child absolutely do feel as if you, the parent, is beingimpartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, objective, disinterested, detached, impersonal, unemotional, indifferent, or uncommitted. This sudden disconnect is noticeable ad scary from the child's point of view because your loving support has just disappeared.

Children end up with hurt feelings when parents don't support them. Children feel confused when parents ignore their interests and needs. Ask parents if they think it is important to listen to their children and to nurture their interests, and most parents would wonder why you would even ask such a question. They would say,"What do you think? Of course I think it's important. I love my child. How can you even ask that!?!?!" 

Most parents intuitively know that children often need encouragement the most at times of transition, whether they are the little transitions of daily life like getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and getting in the car with all the gear needed for the day -- or big transitions like the break-up of the family. The difference is that parents know how to cope with the ordinary transitions of daily life. Break-up of the family overwhelms the coping skills of everyone in the family.  And the transition between Mom's House and Dad's House is a frequent transition for 2-home children that can be a challenging time for the parents.

Parents don't usually think of themselves as "co-parents" until the couple relationship ends, even though they may have years of co-parenting experience to draw on. And, like most of our life experience, some of it has been positive and helpful, and some of it has probably been more negative and unhelpful. Families break apart because the grown-ups have differences that can't be resolved. Inevitably some of those differences are in the area of parenting and, unfortunately, one or both parents tend to paint the other parent as "the bad parent" and him or herself as "the good parent." As the Executive Director at Hannah's House, I have personally had the experience of a parent actually telling me they are "the good one." 

My heart hurts when I hear these words or perceive this attitude/belief in a parent. I hurt because it is an impossibly painful situation for the child. It means the child gets the message he or she is "half good" and "half bad." And, no, parents don't understand that reality for the child because the parent is just not thinking about the child. In fact, that mom or dad may be so preoccupied with his or own reactions to their coparent that they don't even notice the impact on the child. They become focused on their own needs, feelings, and shaky identity with no awareness of the child. It's not an intentional disconnect from the child and, for most parents, this behavior will not last. At least it won't last for the vast majority of parents because sanity will return and coping skills will develop. But what damage is done to the child as the parent struggles to find a sense of equilibrium again and return to that consistent, close, and warm parent-child connection.

Neutral is not an appropriate parental response because neutral lacks loving and warmth. Neutral is not possible for a parent even under the very best of circumstances! And it is completely impossible when the parent is hurt and their dreams shattered. If you are a friend or family member of a parent striving to be "neutral" when really what they are is angry, frustrated, hurt, depressed, worried about their children and so on, then please speak up. Validate the pain and grief of loss that goes with the break-up of the family and support that parent in acknowledging and supporting ALL of who their child is, not just PART of the child. The way children end up with a facade, a false self, a loss of childhood spontaneity and a loss of the ability to experience pleasure, is through the neglect of their emotional and psychological well-being by the most important adults in their life: Mom and Dad. 

So, please don't be neutral! Speak up, help, support, and be a friend. Be a thoughtful and loving family member. Suggest a co-parenting class, counseling or therapy, a support group, something to help Moms and Dads get the support and information they need to deal with one of the most difficult life transitions a person can navigate. 

From the Therapist's Desk

SELF-CARE IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS

Most of us have either given or received this advice: "you need to take care of yourself first or you are no good to anybody else!" Makes sense. It's good advice. The only problem? If someone is saying that to me, or I am saying that to someone else...it's probably obvious to everyone that there is a problem with self-care. After all, most of us tend to cycle through periods of adequate to great self care and periods of slips, relapses, indulgences, too-tired-to-care-about-much-of-anything! 

Self-care is one of the greatest challenges of family break-up and family conflict. Self-care by the parents is one of the protective factors essential to the long term positive adjustment and well-being of the little ones. Children need to be cared for and protected from adult concerns to the greatest extent possible and that responsibility lies with the parents. Unfortunately, some parents care for themselves by placing the burden and responsibility for adult worries squarely on the shoulders of the children. Directly: "tell your Mom/Dad that I need the child support or I can't pay for your school pictures." Indirectly: "Oh, sweetie, I wish we could afford to do that, but your Mom/Dad isn't paying his/her child support so we just can't afford it." 

We know that inter-parental hostility creates a negative home environment and results in children who experience stress, unhappiness, and feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. Research informs us that that parents who go through a high conflict family break-up are more likely to devalue the importance of the other parent in the life of the child and interfere with the other parent's relationship with the child. Research also informs us that an ongoing relationship with both parents serves a protective function and predicts a child's overall well being. In fact, several studies have found that children in joint custody situations fare better after divorce than children who are in sole custody situations. 

Let's look more closely at inter-parental hostility and its affect on self-care and care for the other. It's perhaps the clearest example of a parent putting his or her own emotional needs far ahead of the needs of the child for warmth, care, nurturing, and protection. Hostile parents are stuck in an attitude of opposition, negativity, hatred and loathing toward the other parent and, therefore, toward important aspects of who his or her child is! Hostile parents are not able to love, accept and nurture ALL of who the child is, but only a part. Hostility/negativity as a stuck position for a coparent makes self-care an impossibility, which means that care for the child will be impaired long term and the child lives in a state of vulnerability and insecurity rather than stability and security. 

For many parents who survive the earthquake of a family break-up, accepting personal responsibility for the quality of our life and that of our children moving forwards is the key to peace in the family and is at the core of self-care. This doesn't mean that all is forgiven but it definitely means that I take responsibility for my own choices on a daily basis and move toward my own healing and wholeness. Some parents are not able to make the changes needed to truly move forward; mental illness including trauma histories, substance abuse, poverty and other fundamental challenges interfere. The good news for the child is that a stable, loving, healthy parental relationship with just one of their parents can compensate for the impairments of the other parent.

From the Parent Coach's Desk

STRESS LIMITS PARENTAL WARMTH

Just for today: decrease your stress level and increase your parental warmth.

Multiple research studies have identified parental warmth as the single most important quality that serves as a protective factor for a child during the stress of a family break up.

Parental warmth is almost nonexistent when Mom and Dad are caught up in adult struggles with litigation, financial concerns, competition for parenting time and all the other distractions from being present to your child in this moment. Instead parents do "checklist parenting", where they are going through the motions of caring for the child but are not really connected or attentive.

Expressions of parental warmth require attention and thoughtfulness. When a parent is under stress they tend to operate on a kind of auto-pilot that cuts them off from their child. Challenge yourself to start your day with some quiet time to prepare yourself for your first contact with your child/ren. Then move into your day with the intention to be present to your child without distraction each time you talk to them or interact with them.

Concentrate and focus in the moment. Set a goal to spend 1 hour total over the course of the day just child-focused and playing. The moments add up.

What is parental warmth?
1 Calm behavior.
2 Kind attitude.
3 Thoughtful gestures.
4 Focused attention.
5 Loving and nurturing words.
6 Affectionate touch.
7 Genuine conversation.

Parents in the midst of difficult transitions sometimes get in the habit of thinking they will take care of themselves and the children when....the divorce is final, the house is sold, things calm down at the job, the bills are paid. The list goes on and on. Our children need our loving and warmth every day. They suffer when we are so focused on some future point in time that we can't be present now.

Don't wait to share moments of parental warmth with your children. And certainly don't wait for those moments to magically appear. Make it happen. You are in control of your child's emotional and mental well being. You are responsible.

So if you cannot practice those 7 attributes of parental warmth, get some therapy or education or support! You deserve it and your child absolutely needs it for survival.

San Diego Program for Healing Estrangement in Parent-Child Relationships

Intensive Family Restructuring Program

Intensive Family Restructuring Program (IFRP) is a family services program unique to the Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House. Susan Griffin, LMFT, Executive Director, designed the IFRP specifically to heal family relationships fractured by the adversarial Family Court process, and the unsuccessful transition from living in 1 home to living in 2 homes.

There are 4 levels of intervention intensity offered:

  1. 60 day (2 months) program consisting of 2-3 hours of service weekly
  2. 30 day (1 month) program consisting of 4-6 hours of service weekly
  3. 3 day live-in retreat program - Check in evening of day 1 - 3 full days of retreat - Check out morning of 5th day. Retreat is followed by Level 2 and then Level 1.
  4. Retreat only

Placement of the children during Levels 1 and 2 depend on the ability of the custodial parent to support the therapeutic intervention to heal the relationship between the estranged parent and the child(ren). If the custodial parent is blocking or not supporting the intervention process, alternative transportation of the children and/or living arrangements may be suggested.

Fees
Level 1 is $2000. Level 2 is $3000. Full intervention program with retreat followed by Level 1 and Level 2 is $15,000. Retreat only is $10,000. Scholarships are available for low income and very low income clients.

Definition
IFRP is the delivery of specific services to a family system and subsets of that system when family members have become estranged from one another during the restructuring of a family following breakup.

The primary focus of the intervention is improving the relationship between the parent and the child(ren) that are estranged from one another.

The secondary focus is improving the coparenting relationship.

The Court sometimes describes the critical issues for the focus of intervention.

Assessment is required for all significant members of the family system, to include both nuclear and extended. 

What To Refer / What Family Situations

  1. The child(ren) and/or parents have difficulty adjusting to the family breakup longer than 1 year following the family transition
  2. Safety issues such as domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse and/or child abuse led to family estrangement
  3. Ongoing conflict between the parents over parenting and custody issues caused family estrangement
  4. Parent re-enters the parenting role and coparenting relationship after an extended period of drop-out
  5. Family has gotten "stuck" in the supervised visitation setting or in the transition phase of the family breakup itself - unresolved trust issues from the past usually

Participants
Participants in the program include immediate and extended family members at the discretion of the primary Service Provider based on assessment needs and intervention/treatment strategies.

Family Support Action Teams (FAST) are a unique aspect of treatment available to all members of the family system, in the agency setting and in the home setting, or community. These are individuals with specific training assigned to be in a support role to each family member as needed. 

Goals
IFRP goals depend on the history of the situation; how much time has passed; the developmental needs of the child(ren); and the specific orders of the Court.

Examples of common goals in the IFRP:

  1. Repair and renewal of a pre-existing parent/child relationship that has been disrupted.
  2. Creating and  nurturing of a new parent/child relationship where the parent and child have never met or where the child(ren) was too young at the time of separation to have any memory of the parent.
  3. Integration of re-integration of the estranged parent into a healthy shared parenting family structure.

Phases of Intervention
For most families, IFRP services occur in phases that vary from family to family and there is no pre-determined path in terms of the amount of time spent in each phase. Phases tend to move from carefully planned and structured contacts for regular and brief periods (e.g. 1-2 times per week for 1-3 hours) to more open and less structured contacts for longer periods of time (e.g. 2-3 times weekly for 3-8 hours each time). Two different intensive programs of successive days may be used with some families.

Transitions from one phase to another are based primarily on the adjustment and needs of the children.

IFRP Services in a Supervised Visitation Agency Setting
At Transitions Family Program, IFRP services are offered in the context of a supervised visitation agency which includes any activity within the facility, or within walking distance or through use of public transportation.

Safety and security is ensured for all IFRP participants so that family contacts are accomplished in a planned manner which allows all family members to prepare and participate in a positive manner.

As families move through the phases of the process, sessions will transition into the community and into the family home.

About the Services
Transitions Family Program restructures the whole family system, rather than just a subset of that system. We offer IFRP services, with a foundation of Structural Family Therapy

Our intervention is grounded in the understanding that each family system works to capacity to respond to the task of restructuring from one impaired family into two new healthy family systems following the breakup of a family.

For some families the necessary restructuring does not succeed during the first year of separation or effort, and the result is two impaired family systems, neither of which is able to utilize the strengths and resources available to them. 

Therapeutic Units, Components, and Phases of Treatment
In IFRP, the primary therapeutic unit is the distanced parent and the child(ren). Sometimes they will meet together with the parent if there is more than one child and sometimes separately. It depends on the individual relationships.

  • The first phase of IFRP with the primary unit typically focuses on exploring and processing issues that have led to a sense of estrangement.
  • The second phase involves work on healing the areas of the relationship which have become difficult and tenuous.
  • In the third phase parties will have resolved their past emotional estrangement and will move into a more stable relationship.

In IFRP, the secondary therapeutic unit is the two coparents.

  • During the first phase they will meet individually with a member of the Family Action Support Team (FAST) assigned to their case for parenting education and coaching.
  • During the second phase they will meet together for some meetings and separately for others as the relationship issues in the primary treatment unit change the parenting dynamic for each member of the coparenting unit. 
  • In the third phase, the coparents will meet together for facilitated meetings and create coparenting agreements that facilitate positive child sharing between the two homes.

During this intervention process, it is acknowledged that the primary parent also experiences their own stressors. As such, the primary parent is able to use their FAST contact to check in and process questions and gain support and understanding of their critical supporting role.  During any FAST appointment, client confidentiality of the primary therapeutic unit will be maintained and the particulars of the conjoint sessions will not be disclosed. 

Therapist/Coach Role and Reports
The therapist/coach is only in the role of therapist/coach and is not acting as an advocate or evaluator. As such, the therapist/coach will not give recommendations for custody/visitation. The therapist/coach may make observations and suggestions about what might be of benefit to assist the family

If the court orders that a report be submitted, it will outline the progress as it relates to the stages described above and include any critical incidents which may occur during the process.

Outside of a court order that specifies that a report is to be issued, no report will be generated to ensure compliance with  confidentiality and privilege requirements.

Role of the Therapist
A therapist in the role providing court-ordered therapy cannot make recommendations to the court but can make suggestions based on observations and experiences with all family members.

Recommendations can only be made by a therapist when that therapist has been court ordered to take an evaluator role, rather than the role of a therapist, and has been specifically ordered by the court to make recommendations. IFRP therapists are not evaluators.

A therapist cannot make recommendations or suggestions to the court about a child unless the Court, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), or a Minor's Counsel has waived the privilege of the child.  This waiver can be addressed by the court ordering the therapist to write a report on the progress of therapy.

Consultation with Other Professionals
Transitions staff will consult with other mental health professionals with a history of providing services to family members enrolled in IFRP services.  Treating therapists may make a referral to any Level of the IFRP 1-4, with the family returning to the therapist for aftercare immediately following the intervention. 

Providers
Transitions Family Program is a training facility. Our goal is to provide specialized training to prospective Marriage Family Therapists in a challenging and important area of family work. We train student trainees, registered interns, and newly licensed therapists who are volunteers. What each of our providers have in common is a deep interest in and commitment to the needs of Family Court-involved parents and children. Their work is supervised by Gretchen Slover, Psy.D., LMFT and Susan Griffin, LMFT, Senior Transitions Clinician.

Ms. Griffin, LMFT, also offers these services in her private practice but has very limited openings. If you would like a specific court order for Ms Griffin to provide the IFRP protocol, it is critical that you first have a consultation to ensure it is a good fit and that she has openings.

MAY 13, 2017 – HANNAH’S HOUSE EVENT

DOCUMENTARY SCREENING:

"SCREENAGERS – GROWING UP IN THE DIGITAL AGE"

--Special Focus on 2-Home Children—

Co-Sponsors: Hannah’s House-Jewish Family Services – CAMFT-SD - SDPA
Event is held at Jewish Family Services – 8804 Balboa Avenue SD CA 92123

PREMISE: Parenting children is more challenging than ever these days with the pressing need for our children to have a relationship with screens. Screens have the potential for good and the potential for harm. This child-screen relationship, while difficult for all parents, is particularly challenging for 2-home children where each parent may have his or her own rules for screens. We will address the challenges and the solutions for all types of parenting situations in this unique opportunity where professionals and parents can view this exceptional documentary and gain knowledge from experts on these complex matters.

RSVP FOR PROFESSIONALS
RSVP FOR PARENTS

AGENDA - MORNING

  • WELCOME and Research Overview Susan Griffin, MS, MA, LMFT
  • Documentary
  • Teens and Screens Angie Colter, LMFT and Marc Rosenberg, LMFT
  • 5-Step Intervention Mary Mulvihill, Ph.D. 
  • Issues in Family Law Ethan Marcus CFLS Certified Family Law Specialist
  • Expert Panel Moderator - Susan Griffin, LMFT, Coparenting Expert
  • Panel Members –
    Angie Colter, LMFT, Marc Rosenberg, LMFT, Ethan Marcus, CFLS Certified Family Law Specialist, Mary Mulvihill, Ph.D.

Professionals will write questions on 3X5 cards during the movie that will be presented to the panel moderator to determine best fit for the subject matter expert. CEU’s available: LMFT, LCSW, LPCC, Ph.Ds

Food Trucks 1130-130

AGENDA - AFTERNOON

  • Welcome & Research Overview Susan Griffin, LMFT
  • Documentary
  • Q&A – Experts
    Susan Griffin, LMFT, Angie Colter, LMFT, Marc Rosenberg, LMFT, Ethan Marcus, CFLS Certified Family Law Specialist

Parents will write questions on 3X5 cards during the movie that will be presented to the panel moderator 

Visitation Monitor's Responsibility to Ensure Safety and Security

This article is written by our Executive Director, Susan Griffin.

Standard 5.20. Uniform standards of practice for providers of supervised visitation establishes the guidelines for the provision of services in California. Of utmost importance is the delineation of the provider's responsibility to ensure safety and security.

You will note that in some cases the standards state that the provider "must" and in others that the provider "should". Some providers take each of these to mean that the ethical provision of the services MUST include both the "must" and the "should." Others are unaware that 26.2 changed to 5.20 or that 24 hours of training has been required since January 1 of 2013 or have decided that the 5.20 standards don't apply to them because they have so many years of experience or have worked in a job that the provider feels has prepared them for the work so they don't need to comply with Family Code 3200.5 or with the California Rules of Court Standards 5.20.

Add to this combination of ambiguity in the standards and arrogance on the part of some providers and the San Diego Superior Court's opinion that the Court's only responsibility to vulnerable consumers is to ensure that the consumer understands that they are on their own if they or their children are harmed by a provider and you have the makings for considerable risk to young children.

Consumers must have access to information about these standards so they can at least ask the right questions of the provider to ensure safety and security for their family. 

5.20 offers these specific requirements and guidelines:

(g) Safety and security procedures

All providers must make every reasonable effort to assure the safety and welfare of the child and adults during the visitation. Professional providers should establish a written protocol, with the assistance of the local law enforcement agency, that describes the emergency assistance and responses that can be expected from the local law enforcement agency. In addition, the professional provider should:

(1) Establish and state in writing minimum security procedures and inform the parties of these procedures before the commencement of supervised visitation;

(2) Conduct comprehensive intake and screening to understand the nature and degree of risk for each case. The procedures for intake should include separate interviews with the parties before the first visit. During the interview, the provider should obtain identifying information and explain the reasons for temporary suspension or termination of a visit under this standard. If the child is of sufficient age and capacity, the provider should include the child in part of the intake or orientation process. Any discussion should be presented to the child in a manner appropriate to the child's developmental stage;

(3) Obtain during the intake process:

(A) Copies of any protective order;

(B) Current court orders;

(C) Any Judicial Council form relating to supervised visitation orders;

(D) A report of any written records of allegations of domestic violence or abuse; and

(E) An account of the child's health needs if the child has a chronic health condition; and

(4) Establish written procedures that must be followed in the event a child is abducted during supervised visitation.

(Subd (g) amended and relettered effective January 1, 2015; adopted as subd (d) effective January 1, 1998; previously amended and relettered as subd (e) effective January 1, 2007.)

Safety and security is the responsibility of the provider. That much is clear. If you have an order for supervised visitation, print out or download a copy of the 5.20 standards and ask the provider to explain to you the policies and procedures they have established in order to follow the standards. Pay attention to the intake and orientation process so that you can ensure that all of the standards addressed in the area of Safety and Security are addressed by the prospective provider you are interviewing.

A responsible provider will hold both parents to same standard of implementation for each area of responsibility. For example, a provider should not allow either the custodial or the noncustodial parent to set terms for the supervised visitation that are no clearly written in the court order. For example, if the judge does not want the noncustodial parent to have visitation in a particular location the judge will make that explicit. If the judge is concerned about the method of transportation used curing a visitation, the judge will make that explicit. If the judge believes that guests are important for the benefit of the child, the judge will include those guests in the order.

Many providers allow either the custodial or the noncustodial parent to set terms for the visitation that go beyond the orders of the Court. This is an example of bias on the part of the provider when such influence is allowed. If either parent seeks to prevent the provider from exercising his or her full responsibility to establish and ensure safety and security, the provider moves forward on his or own risk. Should a safety or security breach occur because the provider has not exercised his or her professional responsibility but instead has deferred to the judgement of a parent under order by the court, the provider has demonstrated two things:
1.  bias in favor of the parent to whom they have conceded that responsibility; and
2. clear unsuitability for the work of the professional provider of supervised visitation.

Unfortunately there are both parents and attorneys who shop around to find professional providers who will provide the services to the liking of the attorney or the parents while ignoring the Family Code and the Standards.

At Hannah's House, when an attorney or parent pressures us to change the policies and procedures in ways that clearly benefit one party in a way that compromises our neutrality, we let them know that they are free to use another provider. We tell them that if they call around on the list they can easily find providers who will not follow the Family Code or the Standards.

This ethical stand that we uniformly take is one of the reasons that Hannah's House does not have "special relationships" with attorneys, or advocates, or custody evaluators who often recommend specific visitation providers to their clients. We provide our services based on standards, policy and procedure. The only time we vary our service delivery is in cases of domestic violence or special needs like autism, cancer, brain injuries, and other medical or psychological conditions that are clearly documented by the Court as a consideration in the case.

Safety and security are critical factors for everyone in the situation. 5.20 states that: "The goal of these standards of practice is to assure the safety and welfare of the child, adults, and providers of supervised visitation."  The safety of everyone, not just the child. Everyone. The only person tasked specifically with that full responsibility is the provider.

Parents, please look for a provider who accepts that responsibility, who acknowledges your fears about your personal situation, and who has the strength of character and demonstrated ability to enforce policies and procedures consistent with the law and the standards.

More About Supervised Visitation - The Role of the Professional Provider

Of primary importance in the provision of services is the need to remain neutral and show no bias or the appearance of bias toward either party.

Potential signs of bias include:
1.  Excessive communication with one party;
2.  Agreeing to enforce a restriction set by the custodial parent that is not specified by the judge in an order or required by the provider's rule;
3.  Referring to one party by his or her first name and the other by a formal address like Mr. or Mrs. or Ms.;
4.  Having substantive private communications with one party to the case that does not include the other party;
5.  Having substantive private communications with the attorney of one party to the case that does not include the other party's attorney;
6.  Adjusting the provider's rules/guidelines/decisions to suit the needs of one of the parties rather than based on the safety or well being of the children;
7.  Altering a safety and well being decision regarding Ratio of children to Provider at the request of one of the parties when the provider has determined it is not in the child's best interest;
8.  Altering policy and procedure to punish one party to the case or to favor one party to the case; and
9.  Engaging in a dual relationship with either party to a case.

Consumers who have questions or concerns about bias or the appearance of bias are encouraged to make comments on this blog and our Executive Director, Susan Griffin, will respond to them.

You may also email your questions and concerns to Susan.Griffin@gmx.com if you would like to express them privately.

More About Supervised Visitation - An Unregulated Profession

Written by Susan Griffin, Executive Director of Hannah's House, Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation since 1988

There were 88 people on the San Diego Superior Court Resource List under Visitation Monitors in 2011. Today there are 114. That is almost a 30% increase in providers. The reason? A training requirement passed by the California State Legislature in 2012. Prior to January 1, 2013, there was no requirement for training for Visitation Monitors. When the law requiring 24 hours of training became effective, multiple training companies and community colleges began offering the training and promoting the profession.

Supervised visitation monitors are not required to have any college education and even the training requirement is very vague. They are not required to have any license or certification, background check, or proof of business liability insurance.

Supervised visitation monitors have no requirement for continuing education. Once they complete the 24 hours of training specified in Family Code 3200.5 and Administrative Rules of Court 5.20, they are considered to be competent and qualified and can use the title "Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation."

What distinguishes a Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation from a Non-professional Provider of Supervised Visitation?
1.  The professional charges and the non-professional does not.
2.  The professional is required to complete 24 hours of training. The non-professional is not.

This is important information for consumers. The only distinction between professional and non-professionals? Consumers pay for the service and the provider has 24 hours of training to be considered qualified as a "professional." In other professions, this minimal level of training might qualify someone to work as a para-professional. Paraprofessional is a job title given to persons in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, engineering, and law, who are trained to assist professionals but do not themselves have professional licensure.

In general, there is nowhere for consumers to learn about these minimal requirements for this profession. Our local superior court does not provide consumers with information about Family Code 5.20 or Administrative Rules of Court 5.20.

There are other requirements:
A "professional provider" is any person paid for providing supervised visitation services, or an independent contractor, employee, intern, or volunteer operating independently or through a supervised visitation center or agency. The professional provider must:
(1)  Be 21 years of age or older;
(2)  Have no record of conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) within the last 5 years;
(3)  Not have been on probation or parole for the last 10 years;
(4)  Have no record of a conviction for child molestation, child abuse, or other crimes against a person;
(5)  Have proof of automobile insurance if transporting the child;
(6)  Have no civil, criminal, or juvenile restraining orders within the last 10 years;
(7)  Have no current or past court order in which the provider is the person being supervised;
(8)  Be able to speak the language of the party being supervised and of the child, or the provider must provide a neutral interpreter over the age of 18 who is able to do so;
(9) Agree to adhere to and enforce the court order regarding supervised visitation;
(10) Meet the training requirements stated in (f); and
(11) Sign a declaration or Declaration of Supervised Visitation Provider (form FL-324) stating that all requirements to be a professional provider have been met.

There is no requirement for the "professional provider" in San Diego to provide proof of any of these requirements prior to being put on the Visitation Monitors list. The applicant only needs to sign an affidavit saying that they meet the requirements. In some other California counties, providers are at least required to assert on the public list for the consumer's information that they have a background check, liability insurance, auto insurance for transporting children for a fee, and other information.

Here in San Diego, the full responsibility for vetting these "professional providers"  is left to parents who are usually experiencing very difficult and sometimes even traumatic life transitions. The San Diego Superior Court places the burden for determining risk vs benefit for a particular provider with these parents who are often at their most vulnerable.

Here is the disclaimer that these parents must agree to in order to view the Court's list. These parents have a court order to use a "professional provider" and can not view the list unless they "agree" with this disclaimer.

Program Resource Lists Statement

These are lists compiled to assist people to select and locate a program when they are ordered or referred by the court to complete a program in a specific topic area.  Before accessing and using the lists, the San Diego Superior Court requires that you read, understand, and agree to the following terms and conditions:

PROGRAM RESOURCE LISTS PROVIDE COURT USERS WITH CONTACT INFORMATION ON SELF-IDENTIFIED PROGRAM PROVIDERS. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THE PROGRAMS LISTED HAVE IDENTIFIED THEMSELVES TO THE SAN DIEGO SUPERIOR COURT AS PROVIDERS IN THE PROGRAM TOPIC AREA IDENTIFED AT THE TOP OF EACH LIST.  THESE PROGRAMS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE COURT, AND EACH PROGRAM IS INDEPENDENTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR COMPLIANCE WITH ANY AND ALL APPLICABLE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS.  THE COURT DOES NOT ENDORSE, EVALUATE, SUPERVISE, OR MONITOR THESE PROGRAMS.

IF YOU HAVE READ, UNDERSTAND AND AGREE TO THE ABOVE TERMS AND CONDITIONS TO ACCESS AND USE THE PROGRAM RESOURCE LISTS ON THIS WEBSITE, PLEASE CLICK ON "AGREE" BELOW.

                                    AGREE                              DECLINE

Para acceso a esta información en español por favor haga clic aquí.

Other counties do a better job of providing information to consumers to at least prepare them with questions to help determine if the provider told the truth on the affidavit they are required to file with the court.  It's time for San Diego to make this change.

 

 

 

Checklist for Retaining a Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation In California

Checklist for Retaining a Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation In California
_____   (Q) What criteria do you follow in providing services?
              (A) California Rules of Judicial Administration 5.20

_____   (Q) What is your education & training?
(A) 24 hours of training in specific areas detailed in California Standard 5.20 (should be able to provide proof of training)

_____    (Q) What do clients have to do to get services started?
(A) Comprehensive, in-person, separate interviews with each adult party prior to scheduling any visits.

_____    (Q) What is your policy about orienting children?
(A) Face-to-face meeting appropriate to the developmental stage of the child.

_____    (Q) What documents do you require?
(A) Copies of protective orders, current court orders, any Judicial Council form related to supervised visitation, report of any written records of allegations of domestic violence or abuse, and account of child’s health needs/conditions

_____    (Q) How do you avoid taking sides with either party?
(A) My job is to remain neutral. I treat the parties in an equal manner in all of my contacts and expect both of them to follow the court order and comply with all policies and procedures. All contacts with each party are for the purpose of scheduling supervised visitation and are documented.

_____    (Q) What is your court report procedure?
              (A) A report may be requested by any legal party to the case, and I am legally required to comply.

_____    (Q) How do you handle scheduling?
              (A) I follow the court order and work with the parties and attorneys when requested.

_____    (Q) What are your bathroom procedures?
(A) It depends on the age of the children and the court order, but I ensure that I maintain 100% eyeshot and earshot of parent-child interaction during the process each time, if required.

_____    (Q) How do you handle clients/guests who speak a language in which you are not fluent?
(A) I require an interpreter (and here are my procedures) OR I only provide services to clients who speak the language(s) in which I am fluent.

_____    (Q) How do you handle cases of alleged sexual abuse?
(A) I comply with Section M of Standard 5.20 and I require both legal parties to the case to sign a document detailing the specific section of the standard.

_____    (Q) How do you handle the agreement for services with clients?
              (A) I have a written contract that clients are required to sign after they complete orientation.

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