Making the Most of Supervised Contact

A father enjoys a visit with his children.

Children want to have healthy, loving relationships with both of their parents, but separation or divorce often takes a toll on these connections. One of the ways that it does so is by changing the amount of time that parents and children spend together.

In some of these cases, third-party supervision requirements dramatically alter the time one parent spends with their children. Frequently enforced by court order, supervised child contact involves scheduled appointments for parent-child contact that will be monitored by a third party in a safe environment.

When is supervised child contact required?

Courts, judges, and CAFCASS officers refer families to child contact centres when supervised contact is in the best interests of the children. 

It is often mandated in situations where a parent's past behaviour puts a child's safety into question. Circumstances for which supervision might be ordered include past allegations of violence or abuse, either toward the other parent or child, substance abuse, or neglect. 

Supervised contact may also be ordered in cases where a parent is reentering a child's life after a prolonged period without contact or if there is a risk of abduction.

While it may place certain restrictions on how a parent and child can spend their time together, supervised parenting time still allows parents to foster relationships with their children.

Types of supervised contact

Depending on the situation, different types of supervised contact may be ordered. Supervised contact between parent and child can take place at someone else's home or under the supervision of a relative or mutual friend of the parents. It can also take place at a contact centre where trained staff members will monitor the contact session. The staff member will be familiar with the family's case and can document the events of the session. 

Preparing yourself for supervised contact

Getting ready to attend a supervised visit requires both mental and physical preparation.

Whether or not you agree with the supervision requirement, having to see your child on a strict schedule under the supervision of a possible stranger can be mentally exhausting. However, the best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to commit to making the most out of your time together. 

Commit to the schedule

Dedicate yourself to attending each scheduled visit and always being on time.

  • Document your schedule, preferably in a place to which both you and your child's other parent have access. 
  • Factor in commute time. Make sure you have enough time before each appointment to arrive on time. 
  • Give yourself some breathing time afterwards, if possible. Having important appointments or meetings scheduled immediately after your supervised parenting time can make that time with your child feel rushed and stressful.
  • Keep changes to an absolute minimum, and make sure that when you absolutely have to change the schedule that you give your child's other parent notice well in advance.

Prepare mentally

Before each appointment, get yourself ready to focus on your child. It may be simpler said than done, but try not to allow outside worries impact your time with your child.

Whether by taking five minutes before your parenting time to listen to your favourite music or using a calming app for some quick relaxation, clear your mind so you can focus all of your attention on your child.

Supervised child contact should be an enjoyable experience for you and your child, and playing games and doing crafts are just some of the activities you may be able to do together. Think about your child's interests, and find one or more that you also enjoy and can use to bond over.

Also, you might think of something that you and your child can look forward to doing together during each visit. If your child likes listening to stories, choose a book with chapters so that you can both enjoy reading a little more of the story on each visit. If your child likes art or putting things together, choose a craft or project that you can work on a little bit each time you're together.

Understand supervised contact rules

If your family is using a supervised child contact centre for your parenting time, do your research beforehand and understand the facility's rules and guidelines. 

Rules may include strict timelines for when parents must arrive and depart, fees for late arrivals, guidelines for conduct and behaviour, and other rules. Check your contact centre's website or contact them directly for guidelines. 

Preparing children for supervised time with a parent

As a parent whose child attends supervised contact with their other parent, it is equally important for you to participate by way of getting your child ready to spend time with their other parent.

Talk about these visits beforehand, and get them marked on a calendar to which your child has access. This will help keep them aware of when they'll next see their other parent and how frequently.

More than just talking about when they'll happen, encourage your child to look forward to them. Even if you have certain negative feelings about your co-parent, support your child in their efforts to build a relationship with their other parent by speaking positively about their upcoming time together.

When your child leaves a supervised contact session, be prepared to let your child give you as much information as they want to about it. Don't interview them about the visit; instead, allow them to say as much as they want.

 

NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.