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.