Cherub Mama's comment on my last post got me thinking about visit locations and how they don't seem to be consistent. Then her post about a visit day kept me thinking. I'm curious....how do other states/counties handle visits?
Where do they visit? Who supervises "supervised visits"? Does the foster parent get any kind of "report" on how the visit went? How is the date and time scheduling handled?
I've worked with 2 different counties now, and the visitation plans could not have been more different.
The current county -- for S and D -- has a 3rd party agency supervising the visits. The supervising person picks up the child from my home, takes them to to visit, stays, and then returns the child to me. That part of it is super convenient from my end, obviously, since it means that I don't have to do the driving and that I can add the travel time to the amount of foster child-free time I can expect to have. It also means I get some face-to-face time with the person doing the supervising, so I get something of a "how it went" report on the return. Since it's the same person every week, I feel OK about it from the child's perspective as well, although I know that S is not nearly as comfortable with someone she sees only in that context as she would be with me.... So, that's a bright side.
The supervising person and the bioparents agree together on a location and a day/time for the visit. The day and time part has been super easy, as they have always called me first to get available options and then contacted the biofamily. The visit supervisor has been concerned about finding the best time for S (asking me about nap schedules, for example) and has insisted on a location closer to my home than the biomom would prefer in order to limit the amount of time S has to spend in transit. I guess that part has been a bright side as well. The scheduling has been about meshing 3 schedules -- S's, the supervisor's, and the bioparent's, with a heavy priority on S's schedule.
The downside is the location choices. These visits have all, always, been at a McDonald's with an indoor playground. The timing that was chosen does mean that S needs to eat during the visit, so I'm sure that's convenient.... Poor S was so confused at first though. When she first got here, she would crow with delight at the sight of any McDonald's. We never went. After a while, she asked why we didn't go and we told her that "the food isn't very good for you" and that eating out is expensive, so we don't do it very much. We softened that message by saying that it was "OK sometimes, as a treat, but not everyday." Then, I got told the visits will be at McDonald's. S spent the first few visit days asking me repeatedly if it was OK to eat at McDonald's with Mommy at the visit. Oops.
This particular 3rd party agency does supervised visits, obviously, but also teaches parenting classes, conducts home studies and offers substance abuse and other counseling services. I'm not sure exactly what sort of credentials the people doing these visits have--I don't know if they're a counselor, a social worker, a therapist, or just a warm body with (hopefully) some training in what to watch for. So, that's why I keep calling them the "person"!
To sum up, for that county: the visit transport is not up to the foster parent (good), the schedule is flexible (great), the location choices are not ideal (bad).
The other county I worked with -- with L and O -- had a very different plan for visits, although I've been told repeatedly that they are the only one around here that does it this way.
They've partnered with a non-profit 3rd party that also does parenting classes and family support, but this one has a twist. It has a small house that is used for all these things, including supervised visits. The house has a large playroom full of things for kids to do with their bioparents, including a table for the family to use for eating or working on homework. There's also a fenced backyard with a playset and large toys. Since they do all their supervised visits there, the staff member supervising doesn't transport; the foster family has to find ways to get the kids to the location. The schedule is also much less flexible, since you can't have more than one family in the room at once! The child's school schedule is considered immovable (thank heavens!) and they work around the parents' work schedules, but any other conflicts just have to give way to the visitation center's schedule...including bedtime. I loved that L and O had a place they could go be with their mom where they could all actually interact and the supervisor could get a sense on how she was learning to balance the needs of multiple children. They also ate dinner with her, and since that center was providing her parenting classes, they were able to encourage her to shift from bringing them a fast food kid's meal for dinner to bringing in a home-cooked meal. (I always wondered if she was ever allowed access to the kitchen at the house and encouraged to at least reheat food on-site.)
That sounds great, doesn't it? I thought so, until the cracks started to show....aside from the transportation (which was an issue for us because we lived about an hour from the site....and the visits were 2 hours long, making it impractical to return home during a visit), they didn't appear to really "supervise" all that well. As in, there wasn't actually a person in the room with them at all times. (How is that "supervised?"). But the really big problem surfaced when Mom's visits were upgraded...to "supervised community visits." That meant that the court wanted someone to watch her parent her children in public. She needed to show she could juggle all 3 kids needs outside of the structure of the house.
The actual community visit locations were pretty good. There were a few McDonald's visits, but most of them were at a large park where the kids could really play and Mom would have to demonstrate her ability to balance the wildly different needs and wants of an infant, a preschooler, and an 8 year old. The problem with the community visits was, again, the supervision. They were supervised--better than the ones at the center, I think -- but that was because they were supervised by a different 3rd party agency than the one that has the house. The group with the visitation center was still teaching Mom her parenting classes, but they didn't do "off-site" supervision and the communication between the two 3rd parties was not good. So, the new supervisor never knew what parenting topics had been covered and what had not; she didn't know what catch-phrases Mom might have been shown that could have served as a quick wake-up call; she had to take Mom's word for it if she claimed not to have "covered that yet."
So, for that county, the visit locations were great, the scheduling wasn't, and the transportation was a major headache.
In neither county was there any sort of requirement for the bioparent to call in to confirm the visit, but none of them really ever missed one either, so maybe that's something they would add if necessary.
What about anyone else? I've heard talk of tiny visitation rooms at the Department of Children's Services, but don't know if any counties around here do it that way or not.....