Coparent Academy Podcast

#93 - Risk of Visitation with the Abuser Parent

January 01, 2024 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
Coparent Academy Podcast
#93 - Risk of Visitation with the Abuser Parent
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In episode 5 of our series on domestic violence and coparenting talk about the risk of visitation with the abuser parent. 

If you would like to participate in our domestic violence series as a guest, please contact us and let us know. We are interested in all perspectives and backgrounds for our conversations.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To learn more about becoming the best coparent you can be, visit coparentacademy.com.

Speaker 1:

Welcome everybody. This is episode five in our series on co-parenting and domestic violence. Hey, Linda.

Speaker 2:

Hello, I can't believe we're already at episode five.

Speaker 1:

I know, tell me about it. And I was a little behind the scenes. I've realized in several past episodes for quite a while I just sort of go in and I don't even acknowledge you exist until like two minutes later. And I was listening back the other day. I was like that's kind of a jerk move. So I wanted to make sure that I said hey to you before we got started.

Speaker 2:

Oh, that's great. I know I'm here.

Speaker 1:

I know, but everybody else doesn't. Okay. So determining risk of visitation with the abuser parent Lots to consider here. And it's not just the risk that the abuser parent is going to physically abuse the child, I mean in some ways, especially if he gets very violent. That's horrific and extremely dangerous and could be lethal. But for the majority of cases where their child may come back with a bruise or something related to that, at least you can see those. I mean part of the risk that's even scarier is the psychological, emotional, verbal abuse or, you know, the lack of care, the kinds of things that you can't easily see when the child returns. So we're going to be talking about all of those things and we'll start off with the history of physical abuse to the child. So, linda, if a parent does actually have a history of being physically abusive to the child, how should we be thinking about that and determining the risk of visitation with that abuser parent?

Speaker 2:

That's always quite the question to me, especially when I'm presented with a court order to reconcile that parent and child.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, that's a tough one.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it is, and I you know, as my part of it is not just supervising them physically together, but it's getting to the heart of the matter on, you know, that parent having to own and sincerely apologize for what they did to hurt the child and or other people in the family. And rarely do I find that that parent is ready to do such a thing. And so if we're not ready to do that, why are we putting the child back in the space with the parent to have that abuse continue?

Speaker 1:

Right, and so that's a first step is to think you know what was that level of violence in the first place? I mean because if there was a, if there was domestic violence in the household before separation, it's sometimes likely or no, not likely. It's sometimes the case that an abuser could be abusive to the other parent and never be physically abusive to the child. In this context, we're talking about a parent who was actually physically abusive to the child, and what the research shows is that the risk of physical abuse of the child doesn't go down after the separation. It tends to at least say the same, if not increase, absent some sort of treatment for the abusive parent that would deal with the issues that we're leading to the abuse. So we have to assume that abuse is going to continue, which is why we're looking at supervised visitation.

Speaker 2:

Right and in that situation not all supervisors are created equal, but it comes to someone who is able to, willing to be a supervisor for a parent in that situation.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And that gets to the issue of lay supervisors. You know, having the grandparent or an aunt or uncle someone like your pastor from the church, because if you have someone who's really abusive. Let's say you have a guy who's abusive and he's kicked out of the house with a protective order and he moves in with his folks and the children get removed from the protective order but there is some sort of emergency custody order in place and they're putting supervised visitation in place. There's a temptation because the opposing counsel will very frequently say the counselor who's representing the abusive parent will say look, you know, this is a straight up money problem. We have bills of the household that are being paid. We have all these legal fees. You know your lady is wanting reconciliation, counseling or some sort of anger management assessment, drug and alcohol assessment. We can't afford the supervised visitation as well. Your lady has no problem with my guy's mother or my guy's sister. Why not just let that person do the supervision? That's a very common train of thought and request.

Speaker 2:

I usually do hear that, and it's often surprising to me that the abused parent agreed to that.

Speaker 1:

Well, because they know that there is only so much money and they're concerned about it as well, and they've probably spent a lot of time dealing with those financial limitations. They know the finances, they know the money's not there and they want to hope that that person would provide the appropriate level of supervision. But the problem is is that if you have a person who is physically abusive to the spouse or the kids, they have that level of self-centeredness and arrogance and you're not going to tell me what to do, that their mom probably isn't going to be a great supervisor for them.

Speaker 2:

Now. I would times like that that she is equally afraid of, or has quite the long history of abuse by that same adult.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, which is why I'm not a fan of lay supervisors when it comes to situations of abuse. Now, if it comes to a parent who simply doesn't have a lot of experience parenting you know they don't have the the skills built up yet Then I think a lay supervisor is great because they can provide that kind of education Right, but otherwise not Okay. So that's why we need to have professional supervision, not not lay supervision, but even with having professional supervision, we have to understand what's the level of Potential violence that we need to be concerned with. I mean, we have to think about when we're determining what kind of a station is appropriate. Was their Really extreme violence in the first place? I mean, is it we're talking about pushing, shoving, or we're talking about punching, slapping or we're talking about choking or sexual assaults on the Adult? I mean the level of violence and the frequency of the past violence has to be considered and coming up with a plan to keep the child safe with supervised visitation.

Speaker 2:

And that's where so many times the court orders boggle my mind, because there may be like a they need an assessment for anger management or DV. B they need a substance abuse assessment. C they need whatever classes that they need to take for parenting. You know, d and D may be a psyche valve or something, and then E is to get together with your child, with me, and they don't say that ABC and D need to be done before we get to E, where you know that's another thing I think needs to happen is it needs to be in that order If they are able to get to E, or that they're able to get to Supervised visitation, because we do need to know more about what we're dealing with. I think in that case and you know, do we want to send a kid, even with a supervisor, especially, as you said, you know, the grandmother or somebody to the whole, but there are weapons there or substance, substances there that they might be under the influence of at the time, or does that lay supervisor have a clue about their, their, a psychological state, any kind of Mental illness diagnoses or whatever?

Speaker 1:

Right. We have to know all of that because even if the person you could have one of those real Jekyll and Hyde situations where the person is Not so abusive if they're not drunk, but if they get some outcalls in them, then those boundaries that they bat for themselves, those barriers, come down and they are abusive. So you've got to know all of that and that's why we put in the order there's that we use together. When you and I were doing a reconciliation work with cases in which I was involved, the first step was for you to be able to do an intake and an assessment and to determine what other preconditions needed to be met before it was therapeutically appropriate for reconciliation counseling to occur. What a wonderful idea, what are they?

Speaker 2:

from I. Think that came from you and Jamie, so I think so too because of all those orders that we had, that that we were not. You know we were. We were the prerequisite, it seemed like, instead of the end of the game.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, and that's why all orders Appointing reconciliation counselor and our humble opinions should include some room for that professional to do some professional Assessment and determine if it's even appropriate to start that process. Because you know we're asking a reconciliation counselor. The court system is to apply their expertise Without giving them the ability to say whether the foundation is there to apply their expertise. So you have to have that precondition in place.

Speaker 2:

And I would like to put in a plug for the kind of supervision that we haven't mentioned yet, which is one of the places like oh, what is it called over in Clermont, the safe child center. Yeah, safe net safe net where it is a building, that the parents don't have any interaction with each other and the they are in a facility the whole time with people observing both in the room and behind a Glass window. You know that that they're able to observe and put an end to things if it's not going well, you know it's. It's At worst somewhat boring sometimes for the children, they'll tell me, but at best there is really high Supervision with people who are well trained.

Speaker 1:

Right, and it's important to know who the supervisor and who the visitation supervision. It's important to know who the visit supervision providers are so that you know what level of resources they have, because some of the supervisors will also employ law enforcement certified in Oklahoma's called CLEAT certified Individuals who are armed, who can provide Supervision for more dangerous folks, and sometimes it just is. You know you need that supervisor who's a guy in about six foot four and three hundred pounds to be present, because that just creates a Real physical obstacle to anything bad happening, right, so just I had someone.

Speaker 2:

Every time I wish I had someone like that in my office. When I my work was all in person, I can tell you, because once again I was given a quarter to work with somebody that had some reasons to be Very carefully supervised.

Speaker 1:

Yep, absolutely. Then we need to be thinking about, in terms of the level of Visitation, how to make visitation safe. We have to think about what's the history of discipline, because it's one thing to be sitting and doing something fun with your kid and, you know, not disciplining them, and maybe you can get through an hour of visitation. But if if you're in the level of visitation where you're gonna be expected to actually parent, then we have to understand well, what's that history of discipline? Is this abuser someone who would punish while angry? I think a lot of parents don't realize that that's not what they should be doing. Right, giving the punishment should never be done while you're upset. It's not the proper time to do it. But if you're an abuser, it's even more risky.

Speaker 2:

And most of the time in a setting with a therapeutic supervisor such as myself, you wouldn't probably get to that situation because typically that person would be kind of establishing boundaries and the child already knew the boundaries of that environment. Where if you're out and about in the world with just a professional supervisor, much less a layperson, there would come near being situations come up that that parent would do the, at least speaking to the child about what they should or should not be doing.

Speaker 1:

Right, and you know it's possible, because in today's episode we're talking about how to determine how to have visitation safely with the abusive person and what the risks are. So it is possible that we're talking about a situation in which the person is getting to monitor the visitation, in which the supervisor just pops in or out, or they may be getting to unsupervised day visits, and so it's really important that you're making those transitions to know what's that history of discipline between the parent and the child. Do they have a history of leaving marks? Do they minimize or try to justify the inappropriate discipline that they're using with the child?

Speaker 2:

I haven't. Parents justify or minimize many times their statement about what the like their defense to the child's confrontation about what they have done to hurt them. You know the parent many times will say something like wow, well, if you thought that was bad, you should have been in my shoes at your age and you know my parent would have knocked me across the room or I would have been missing some teeth or you know that kind of thing.

Speaker 1:

Right, right. That's always sort of scary talk when you hear that. Yes, and then you know it tells me a lot. Yeah, and it's possible that if you have multiple children in a family with wide age ranges, it's possible that a child, it's possible that a parent may be ready for monitored or unsupervised day visits with one child which is still only have supervised visits with another child in the same family. You could see how that would work. I mean, you could have. You know I'm. What I'm envisioning right now is you have a family with you know, maybe a teenage boy and a teenage girl and then maybe a preteen child and maybe a younger child, like a, like a surprise child who's much younger. I could really envision a circumstance in which the father and the teenage boy should not have unsupervised visitation with the other, because there's lots of emotions that sometimes run high there. The teenage boy may have a lot of anger that hasn't yet been processed towards his father and you have the real risk of some sort of physical confrontation between the two if they have visitation. But that same parent may actually be less risk for having an abusive interaction with the teenage daughter because she's going to be less likely to try to push those buttons and it may actually go okay and you wouldn't trust that parent with the youngest child for various reasons. So it's important not to have a one size fits all for an abusive parent or a parent with an abuse in their history with each of the children in the family system.

Speaker 2:

But in those situations with more than one child I've seen usually the oldest child be extremely guarded about the younger child any of the younger children going alone with the abuser on visitation. Even if they do not want to be there, they do not trust themselves to be there. They really don't trust the parent without them there.

Speaker 1:

And I hate that. So in those circumstances I'll simply advocate that the parent maybe can have unsupervised with the older child for day visits or whatnot, but the older child should never be put in the place of having any supervisory capacity in the visitation of the younger one. It's just parentalization of that older child which is just so dangerous for them.

Speaker 2:

But we've done that to children a whole lot.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I know, and I've been in cases.

Speaker 2:

And or we've turned children into narks on their parents yeah, I know he or she was using, or was drunk or whatever you know. And I will say I've had children, even in my office, that could tell me with just a quick hug with their parent that they smelled alcohol on them, which I had not, because I hadn't gotten that close to them, or that they knew that certain behavior from the parent that they knew that I didn't know because I didn't know the parent that well, I hadn't seen him that many times indicated that they were under the influence of something.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, absolutely. And then the next category, if you're ready, is when we're thinking about a history of neglect or under involved parenting, because it's easy to be thinking about the abuser parent in terms of one who's going to commit physical violence and we need to have supervision. But it's also the case that a lot of these abusive parents, as we talked about in a prior episode, they just don't have the great parenting skills. You know, sometimes the abuse is a proxy for not knowing what to do because you don't have proper parenting skills built up and you get frustrated and you lash out. But you know, some of these uninterested parents who don't have great parenting skills the children there may be a history of neglect with that parent that you can't necessarily trust that they're going to understand what's developmentally appropriate and provide the proper level of supervision.

Speaker 2:

Yes, I've even heard of such parents leaving the child alone in a car, with the doors unlocked in the car right, while they run in a store.

Speaker 1:

But you know, and it's one of those things where and you and I've talked about this a lot Part of helping a parent who's been an improper parent learn better parenting skills, this is start to get them to think about themselves first as a parent instead of as a man or a wife or a woman or a husband. When you're only seeing the child a couple times a month for a couple of hours, you stop thinking of yourself as a parent. You stop doing those things that a parent does like make sure you have your child when you go into the store. Make sure you have your child when you leave the store. Make sure you have your child at all points while you're in the store. You know just all the things that a parent is supposed to do. If you don't have that perception of yourself as a parent, it's easy to forget those things.

Speaker 2:

And if the child is coming to your home, have everything ready for them. When they come to your home they're going to have proper food and snacks and drink and whatever for that child.

Speaker 1:

Right, because if you don't normally have the kid there, you know you may just have your whatever you're eating. So and this is really age dependent, you know, because if you have a child who's old enough, when they come home they're going to complain that all they had was whatever to eat, or you know that the parent left them in the car for two hours where they went and saw a movie or went into the bar. But when you have a younger child who doesn't know enough or isn't able to verbalize, that's where it gets really complicated in distressing.

Speaker 2:

And even with the very young ones, even babies, I have heard from a lot of especially when I was doing some PC work from a lot of the mothers I would hear that the child comes back at exactly the same diaper or diaper and clothing that they sent them in, you know, 24 hours ago, to that parent or longer. Haven't forbid so it's. You know the child is quite obviously hungry and probably didn't sleep, or you know there's a lot of things you can tell even by a baby's behavior, much less what they have on their body.

Speaker 1:

Exactly agreed completely, and that's one of the reasons in our Co-parent Academy we have as one of our principles in our foundations course that it's each parent's obligation to create an environment in which the other parent can be the best co-parent possible, and part of that is here's an example of that. So I'll put in orders sometimes, when I have this concern about the parenting skill of the other parent and we're trying to reintroduce them on a step-up plan, I'll put written into the order that it will not be deemed a negative but rather a positive If the parent who's having visitation calls the other parent and asks a question, or calls to the parent and says I'm at the end of my rope right now. Can we please exchange the child back. So I try to put in the orders that that parent that we're recognizing that the parent is in a growth process and they can't be penalized for acknowledging a vulnerability in their parenting, and I think that doesn't happen enough in order.

Speaker 2:

Well, those things happen. You are a good example of that happen in real life with parenting a child. You know you sometimes need the tag team. You know what's going on and tap out Right. They're yours for the next 30 minutes, you know.

Speaker 1:

Right. So we have to give that person the understanding that it's okay and encourage for them to reach out for help, because then you can start building that trust as well. Not only do you keep the child safer in the moment, because you're not putting this other parent under the expectation that if they have any sign of weakness that they lose, you're also building trust because when they put up that flag and ask for help and you come in and help and you do so without judgment or recrimination, now you're building some trust back.

Speaker 2:

Right, I agree with that. I used to use a journal that went back and forth between the parents and, of course, typically the mothers would write more than the fathers did. But that would answer, especially if it was very young children that really couldn't articulate what had happened during the visit for the parent who had the child most often or the longest amount of time, to know that, indeed, you know food was given, a bath was given, you know medication, perhaps diaper changes, you name it when those things happened so that they were, and it was hard not to, for the visiting parent not to feel like they were accountable to the other parent. But that's where I did work with them in terms of this is just good parenting. You know, if the child were in daycare at that stage, the parent picking them up would be getting those kinds of notes. So you do need to know. Yeah, was there a bell movement today? Right, those kinds of things are important. When a child is so young they can't tell you about those things.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, exactly. And then also in thinking about any history of neglect or unevolved parenting. You know, does this parent have a history of leaving the children with improper third parties? You know, does mom or dad have a boyfriend or girlfriend of the week that rotates out frequently and they're known to leave the child to go to the store, to do whatever? Because you have to know if that history is there. You know, the best indicator of future conduct is past conduct. It doesn't mean people can't change, but until they have demonstrated they're on a path to change, you've got nothing else to go on, so you have to assume it's going to happen. Okay, coming down towards the end on this topic, let's talk briefly about boundary violations, and this is one, especially when the child gets a little bit older, to taking into consideration. And again, lots of times, if you have a parent who doesn't have the kid around a lot, they're not going to think of the house as their house with the children. They're just going to think of their house with the kids who are sort of barging in for a period of time. And so they need to understand that the child has some privacy rights and to give the child some space to have privacy and if there's a history of boundary violations in their relationship, that's a concern that needs to be considered and coming up with what safe visitation will be for the child.

Speaker 2:

And, like we've talked about before too, sometimes that does take a while to gain that trust and show the child that you have that respect and it's. I remember a particular father client that you had years ago that I was also working with them and he really amazed me in how he was able to establish that it was just his natural instinct to do it and I didn't have to coach a whole lot. But he was my first time father at that point and in meeting I figured some coaching on how to parent and was just really excellent at not pushing any kind of hugging or touching or you know very much was. Would you like to do this or this? Would you? Always offering options and very much with an eye toward you know you do get to choose. I'm not going to be mad if you don't like the snack I brought. You know that kind of thing. That was implied because there were options every time and the child would sometimes even kind of look at him like this doesn't drive with what I thought you would be like, but it's. You know she was very receptive to it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, in this, in this conversation, in what you're talking about there gets to the heart of what a having proper boundaries is is the parent acknowledging that the child is an individual separate from him or herself who has the right to have their personal space, their privacy when they're getting changed. You know to not have inappropriate conversation about adult relationships that aren't inappropriate, you know that kind of thing and it starts with understanding that your child is an individual separate from yourself who deserves to have some privacy and some space.

Speaker 2:

Right, and that starts when they're really young. You know, one of the biggest problems I see is the parent who hasn't been around the child that much, not understanding that that does need to start young and at least be Right, extended to the child, even if they, you know, say they're okay with something different, like a hug or something, at least extend that to the child because they can get really mixed signals about what's okay?

Speaker 1:

Right, and this is why, when you're having set up visitation, it's important not to have it with third parties around. You know, lots of times a dad will want to bring his new girlfriend around because you know he wants to show that he's a good parent and wants the woman to see him with the child, or he wants the lady to sort of take some of the responsibility for the parenting. And that's why it's super important for the, for the parent to have one-on-one time so that they can, along this step up process, you know, identify, hopefully, some weaknesses, that there's any self-awareness in their parenting, to find the holes and fix them to, to build that trust, one-on-one to be doing the hands-on work of parenting so that when it opens up to broader visitation periods they've put in the work, they have the self-confidence they can think in themselves as that provider and they're ready.

Speaker 2:

And this would be, too, another reason why it's better for, you know, not one of the an abusive parent that's been, you know has has definitely proven that they are but someone that perhaps the the mother is, is worried about just how that parent will parent when they haven't really been a hands-on parent before. It's really important, I think, for a supervisor to be someone that can coach from the sidelines but not do all the work for the parent, like you're just saying. Sometimes a new girlfriend would, or his mother might, if, if she were the supervisor you know.

Speaker 1:

Right, right. And then just to sort of wrap us up here, you know, if there's any psychological, emotional, verbal abuse history, you have to take that in consideration as well. Any history of using the children as a weapon to hurt the other parent, you got to take that in consideration, to be on the lookout for signs that that's happening. But really, something you said earlier, linda, is what it all comes down to. Before before we know we can make it safe for the child, there has to be some minimum work done by the parent, and that starts with accepting responsibility for their past actions. Because until they do that, it's not fertile ground to receive the seeds of knowledge of how the parent better, how to control their own temper better, all the different things that these, how to have some empathy for the other people in their life. Those are the kinds of things that we have to start seeing happen before we could ever think of moving For something like the real secure visitation set up at SafeNet, for example, here in Oklahoma, getting us towards, you know, professional supervised and maybe some lay supervised, some monitored, some unsupervised day visits and then just that progression that we can have or we can reintegrate that parent. So you know, a lot of times parents are thinking in themselves it's not fair to me that I don't have this level of visitation that I should have because I'm not a bad person and I just maybe I made a mistake or maybe I did this or that I've seen I literally had was part of a conversation like that in one of my cases today. The person was indicating you know, I made one mistake, I'm not a bad person, but really that's not what it's about In this context. We're talking about how do we make sure that visitation is safe with the abuser parent, and what the abuser parent doesn't realize is the fact that we're talking about visitation at all is an indication that your role in the child's life is respected to the point where we're trying to get visitation, if it's at all safe in the way that safe is for the child, and we wouldn't be doing that with a stranger. So we respect the role of the abuser as the parent, we respect the relationship with the child. We're looking to have some contact stay in place while the abuser is getting the help that they need and the child is getting the help that they need to restore that relationship.

Speaker 2:

And I can tell you, especially with, I would say, children eight and above, when I'm doing either therapy visitation or reconciliation therapy with a parent who definitely is a bona fide abuser has been accepted into the Domestic Violence Intervention Services 52 week atters program. It's quite obvious on this side of the fence myself with the kids that that person either is or is not accepting responsibility for what they did in that household with the child, even if it went directly to the child in that household, the trauma. They are accepting responsibility for, the trauma that they imposed on the child by what they're just automatically bringing up to tell the child about that. They have been learning and you see the child, because children are quite accustomed because they go to school to learning new things, something that they didn't know before, and they appreciate their parents having to do that and it does get their attention. I just see a different look in their eye, usually a tilt to their head when they're, when they're listening to their parent talking about what they learned the last week or two, since maybe I've seen them with the parent. It's quite interesting. Sometimes the parent will even have like their workbook they're working through or some journaling assignment that they're sharing with the kid to say, wow, this really got my attention and I see how this affected you and the child is much more open to accepting that parent back into a normal parent role if they can show the child what they're learning, how they're applying that to their particular situation.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, for sure, kids need their parents. They want them. They'll take them, even if they're damaged, as long as they can feel safe.

Speaker 2:

And as I feel something is going to be different going forward, you know right right.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so this was episode five in our Domestic Violence and Co-Parenting series. We will be back next week with episode six, and there we're going to be talking about how to structure a visitation with the abusive parent. We've covered some of that today. We've talked about the different forms of visitation, but we're going to get into that a little bit more, with some more terminology, maybe some plans for what can happen as specific points, the kinds of things that we would want to see before we could step up the visitation for the parent and how that would work. All right, thank you much everybody. How could I say that any worse? Let me try that again. I think I have two. I mean, I'm tempted to cut that out, but I kind of have to let it stay, all right. So thank you everybody. We've enjoyed talking with you today about this topic. Again, this is a tough topic, and so we appreciate you spending time with us and thinking about these issues. We look forward to continuing this series and, as always, if you have any questions concerns, email us at podcast at Co-Parent Academy dot com. Check out all the courses we have available at Co-Parent Academy dot com. There's something in there for everybody. And just sort of to give you an idea of pricing. You could get everything we have in Co-Parent Academy for an entire year for $185. That's an all access 12 months pass to Co-Parent Academy. So if you have any interest in that at all which you should, if you are a smart, intelligent, compassionate and I'm just kidding If you have any interest in that at all check it out Co-Parent Academy dot com. Check out our courses and bundles.

Speaker 2:

You get to spend many hours with us for that price.

Speaker 1:

Many, so many hours. We're supposed to make it sound attractive, Linda, not unattractive. I thought that was a good thing, that's true. Well, I mean I think that All right, everybody, we've failed.

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Ensuring Safe Visitation for Abusive Parents
Establishing Safe and Healthy Parent-Child Boundaries