Academic journal article Child Welfare

Making Visits Work

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Making Visits Work

Article excerpt

Visits between parents and children are key to successful reunification. Providing a safe and possibly supervised setting, however, is not always sufficient to facilitate positive parent-child interaction. Parents often have to learn how to play with and enjoy their child's company. This article offers common overestimations of parental capacity that doom visits, principles for effective visiting, and practical and inexpensive suggestions that are easy to implement and enjoyable, and that will improve interaction and increase the potential for reunification.

When children are removed from their parents by child protective services (CPS), a schedule for visiting between the parents and their children is set up by CPS and the juvenile court as part of the reunification plan. Debatestypically heated-over visits tend to focus on their location, frequency, and duration, and whether supervision is necessary. Once agreement is reached on these details, people are exhausted and tend to call it a day. This emphasis on logistics, however, sidetracks the questions of the content and structure of the visits that will determine how productive they will be, especially at such a difficult and stressful time. Perhaps it is assumed that if supervision can assure safety, the parents and children will have a positive experience. Merely removing the potential for danger, however, does not necessarily facilitate productive interaction. Rather, this overestimation of parental ability to participate in a visit obscures the reality that parents often have to learn how to enjoy their children's company.

This article describes the erroneous assumptions on which typical planning for visits rests, presents the factors and principles workers should consider to make visits positive, and gives practical suggestions for inexpensive modifications of visiting plans, along with examples of innovative visiting plans that are easy to implement as well as enjoyable. It is hoped that social workers, case aides, and monitors of visits will appreciate that much can be done with little effort or expense to make visits constructive, enjoyable, and a useful barometer with which to gauge the parent's likely capacity for reunification.

Survey of Literature

The literature on visits focuses on their part in family reunification plans, with discussions on the merits of current commitments to preserve and reunify families [Berliner 1993; Gelles 1993]. Thus, the fact that a parent attends visits is often taken as a sign of a strong bond between the parent and child and overrated in the agency's and judge's efforts to effect reunification [Simms & Bolden 1991]. Conflicts associated with visits are also noted: the conflict of loyalties when the child feels caught between two families [Gean et al. 1985] and the concomitant competition between the foster and biological parents [Cautley 1980]; and the pain, anger, and humiliation parents feel about the loss of their child and about the visiting plan [Kadushin & Martin 1988; Fanshel 1982].

Social work practice literature recognizes the centrality of visits in maintaining family ties, and indicates that reunification rates are closely tied to frequency of visits between parents and their children in placement [Fanshel & Shinn 1978; Fanshel 1981]. It is incumbent upon social service agencies, therefore, to adopt an ecological, "multifaceted interventive approach to children and their families in the context of their real-life situation and environment" [Maluccio 1981a: 11]. Visiting supports families coping with changes in relationships, reassures the child about the parent's wellbeing, helps the child deal with reality, empowers parents and allows them to practice new behaviors, facilitates transitions to new living arrangements, and affords staff opportunities to observe and assess parental capacity accurately [Hess & Proch 1993; White 1981; Weinstein 1960; Jenkins & Norman 1975; Shapiro 1976]. …

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