Academic journal article Family Relations

The Effectiveness of a Visitation Program in Fostering Visits with Noncustodial Parents

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Effectiveness of a Visitation Program in Fostering Visits with Noncustodial Parents

Article excerpt

This investigation provides initial information about the effectiveness of a supervised visitation program to maintain the relationship between parent(s) and their adjudicated child(ren) through supervised visits. Through comparative analysis, this study examines families participating at a visitation center with those non-participating families. Participating families are more likely to have visitations occur and have several visits than non-participating families. These results provided evidence for positive impacts of the program on the families it serves (e.g., closing cases more quickly).

Dramatic social, demographic, and economic changes during the past 30 years have transformed the American family (National Commission on Children, 1991). Generally, families in America are coping well with these changes. However, an increasing number of families are failing their children. From 1982 to 1992 the number of placements in foster care has increased by nearly 80% as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1996). Placement of a child occurs when a state protective services worker (under supervision of the state judicial system) determines that a child's family cannot provide a minimally safe environment for the child. Generally, placement occurs either because a member of the household has physically or sexually abused the child or because the child's caretaker(s) has severely neglected the child. In many of these situations, judges allow visitation between the noncustodial parent(s) and their child to occur only if supervised by a third party.

Aiding parents in the visitation process presents a greater demand on family service programs. One approach to enhancing the visitation between the parent and child is found in a relatively recent social service: supervised visitation programs. The increase of placements coupled with the increased need for services from separated and divorced parents has been the major impetus for the growth of supervised visitation programs in America and other industrialized countries.

Supervised Visitation

Supervised visitation, by definition, is providing an opportunity for contact between a child and an adult, typically the noncustodial parent, in the presence of a third party. This third person is responsible for ensuring a safe environment for the individuals participating in the visit. Supervised visitation is needed when there is any situation that may place a child at risk (Straus, 1995). Supervised visitation programs frequently include established centers in which visits between dependent children and their noncustodial parents are supervised by trained observers. These supervised visitation centers have multiple foci. For example, the majority of these centers arrange visits among families; oversee visits and child-exchanges; provide parenting classes and support groups; and provide a coherent, just, family- and childcentered community response to custody and visitations (Straus & Alda, 1994). Overall, the purpose of supervised visitation programs is to provide a safe friendly environment that maintains and fosters the relationship of a child with his/her parent(s).

Many scholars have highlighted the beneficial effects of children's contact with their biological parents while the children are in out-of-home care, as well as the detrimental effects of the absence of visiting, with respect to emotional adjustment of the children (Colon, 1978; Fanshel, 1975; Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Hess, 1988; Oyserman & Benbenishty, 1992; Pringle & Clifford, 1962). Maintaining a secure attachment with a parent(s) through visits increases the likelihood of the positive development of a child in terms of their emotional health (Grigsby, 1994; Hess, 1982).

In their extensive review of literature on visitation, Cantos and his colleagues (Cantos, Gries, & Slis, 1997) noted studies where frequent visits had also been found to help children in the expression of their feelings (Littner, 1975) and relate better to their foster parents (Van der Waals, 1960), helps calm separation fears (Hess, 1988), and gives both the placed children and the foster parents continuing opportunities to see the parents realistically instead of maintaining irrational notions. …

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