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Supervised Visitations During the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Svetlana Krapivina

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are getting scared. Are you taking steps to keep your family safe?

Millions of Americans are facing unprecedented changes in their lives caused by COVID-19’s spread across the states: unemployment, health issues, financial problems, homelessness, closed schools and kindergartens, and increased cases of domestic violence and abuse. The stress and inability to address all of these problems at once make it even more difficult for families with children to survive on an everyday basis.

Parents who are court ordered to have supervised visitations experience fear and uncertainty dealing with the new reality: Will I be able to see my kids? Would it be safe to see them? What should I do to protect myself and my children nowadays?

First of all, don’t panic. You still have the right to see your children. Using my home state as an example, the California Court made it official to continue modified visitations, meaning visits with children are now available either in person or by telephone/Skype/online/e-mails, deemed virtual visits. The court doesn’t give specific instructions but rather recommendations for monitors (people who observe these visits with children) to choose the format of visits. Under Standard 5.20, section (g), all supervised visitations providers must make reasonable efforts to assure the safety and welfare of each party involved. Under section (l), a provider has the responsibility to enforce the terms and conditions of supervised visitations.

Keep in mind, there are no best practices identified for providing virtual visitations. The transition from in-person to virtual visits is voluntary. The decision made by a monitor should be based on several factors, such as child(ren)’s age, nature of a case (whether or not it’s a domestic violence case), if there is a case of child abuse, and so on. Every case is different and sometimes it is not safe for either parent or a child to have a virtual visit.

What If a Provider Decides to Schedule Virtual Visits for a Noncustodial Parent and a Child?

Using the above example, a provider has to take several steps to make sure all safety concerns were addressed and all provisions of Standard 5.20 were incorporated prior to visitations. The measures include discussions with both parents as to how virtual visits would be operated. Another thing is clarification of the use and access of digital equipment (e.g., computer/phone access, internet access, apps, and any possible security issues). There are several policies that need to be implemented as well: ensure a custodial parent’s privacy and safety, allow no additional people/guests during visits if their names are not mentioned in a court order, choose the location with care, refrain from passing notes or whispering, and arrange for age-appropriate games and toys prior to establishing remote services.

Another factor is frequency and longevity of virtual supervised visits based on a child’s age. Sometimes it might be difficult for a parent to keep a child occupied for a long period of time using digital technologies only.

All these or any other policies should be discussed with both parents before scheduling virtual visits.

If a parent wants to change a current order for visitations, one should file a request with the court. California parents can find more information at www.courts.ca.gov/find-my-court.htm.

Timely tips on visitations during COVID-19 pandemic are available at http://afsproviders.com/covid-19/.

If a parent is still concerned about his or her child(ren)’s health and safety due to coronavirus disease, two excellent resources are www.cdc.gov and www.cdph.ca.gov.

— Svetlana Krapivina is founder of Academy of Family Service Providers and a professional visitation provider and social worker.