Children's Voice November/
December 2008

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Using Visits to Reward or Punish

In a set of core principles that it outlines for family time, the Visitation Protocol Project group includes the tenet that family time plans should not be used to threaten or discipline the child, or control or punish the parent. "We knew this was a problem, and we had to deal with it," co-chair Michael Key explains. He said it's common that providers cancel visits to punish children for breaking rules, and the group wanted to make a statement against that practice. "Because we had put together these principles, and did all this work to get it, to have it slip away because a kid didn't clean her room didn't make sense." Just as often, he said, parents who failed a drug screen may have visitation rights automatically cut off for as long as 30 days, regardless of any involvement in a treatment program. Key said that obviously if a parent showed up for a visit under the influence, that's reason to cancel the visit--but out of safety concerns for the child, not as a punishment for the parent.

Key's opinion represented the consensus, yet that view isn't reflected in policy. Of the 37 states that responded to researcher Peg Hess, only five (13.5%) explicitly say that visits should not be used as a reward or threat to influence behavior of children in care or their birth parents. Although some might consider it a given that visit frequency should not be linked to behavior, Hess said practice doesn't reflect that understanding. "My hunch is that there may be people involved in developing that policy for whom it's an assumption," she says. "But I think it's not a safe assumption."

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