In the field of child welfare, we have typically used the term “visitation” to refer to time between children or youth placed in foster care and their parent or other caregiver from whom they were removed. While the goal of time between the child and parent is multifaceted, the primary goal is to support the child’s needs and promote a healthy, age-appropriate relationship between parent and child with support from a parent coach. To better reflect this important goal, we propose moving from the use of the term “visitation” to that of “family time.” This important shift helps frame the time children and youth spend with their families as something far more important and far-reaching than “visiting.”
Loar (1998) finds that in order to achieve reunification without recidivism, supervised visitation needs to be more than a court compliance exercise or an opportunity to document parent and child interactions to inform reunification decisions. Indeed, if parents understand that the actual purpose of visitation is to make their children happy and to demonstrate that they can meet their children’s safety, emotional and developmental needs, they will be much better positioned to approach visitation as an opportunity for successful family time, which even on a purely linguistic level evokes a substantially more positive image and outlook. When such family time is supported by a child welfare professional equipped with tools to help coach parents to better meet their children’s needs when necessary, the true spirit of visitation services is realized to the benefit of the parents and their children.
Dr. Marty Beyer put a name to this strength-based and collaborative approach to visitation services in the development of visit coaching.
What is Family Time/Visit Coaching?
Family time coaching (or visit coaching) is fundamentally different from visits because of the focus on the strengths of the parent and the specific needs of the children before, during and after family time. The coach works with the parent to identify each child’s specific emotional, developmental and safety needs that must be met during family time. For example, this may include needs such as “to use more words” and “to lead in play” for a 3-year-old, or “to be responded to with eye contact, talking and singing” for an infant.
Why Family Time/Visit Coaching?
It is important here to note the distinction between supervising visits (or even providing parenting education during visits) and coaching parents to meet their children’s needs. Given the challenges parents face in visiting their children, they require more support than someone in the visit supervision role can provide. For the parent who has been removed from the parenting role and feels guilt and anger about what has happened to their child, it is unlikely that direction to interact with their child or discipline in a certain way, for example, will make family time productive (despite the good intentions of the worker or parenting teacher). Visit coaching, on the other hand, allows the coach to work with the parent where they are at and to engage with them on a more strengths-based, collaborative level to help them grow as parents.
Implementing Family Time/Visit Coaching
The initial reaction to the concept of visit coaching may be that it is unrealistic to implement because of the time commitment and the competing demand of caseload size. However, even though coaching makes visits somewhat more time-consuming, when staff are trained to coach visits, cases close more quickly in either direction: parents who are capable and willing to make changes to ensure the safety and well-being of their children will find a skilled and collaborative coach who can guide them toward acquiring the skills necessary to be reunited with their children, while parents who are not capable or willing to make the necessary changes often come to the realization on their own (through the inherent self-reflective process that a skilled coach will facilitate) that a different placement might be best for everyone involved. In either case, the safety and well-being of the children are supported and permanency very likely expedited.
By slowing down now to go faster later with coaching, “visitation” becomes family time, and the parents will be empowered and engaged to make decisions that will ensure safety, stability and permanency for their children.
Watch visit coaching developer Marty Beyer’s comprehensive overview of visit coaching at the Northern California Training Academy’s Family Time Coaching Resource Page: http://bit.ly/FamilyTimeCoaching
Loar, L. (1998). Making visits work. Child Welfare. 77(1): 41-58. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9429309