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Guiding Principles

The Guiding Principles of the Justice for Families Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Program Guiding Principles are designed to guide the development and administration of Justice for Families Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Program (Supervised Visitation Program) centers with an eye toward addressing the needs of children and adult victims of domestic violence in visitation and exchange settings. The Guiding Principles embody the statutory requirements and objectives of the Supervised Visitation Program.

Each of the six Guiding Principles (overarching philosophy and perspective) is accompanied by standards (expectations based on the guiding principle) and practices (concrete activities based on the principle and standard). The goal of developing the Guiding Principles is to help guide best practice in the provision of safe visitation and exchange services and in the overall community response to children and adult victims of domestic violence.

The standards and practices are considered to be good practice when addressing the needs of victims of domestic violence. However, centers funded under the Supervised Visitation Program can and are encouraged to go beyond the practice outlined within the Guiding Principles.


Principle I states that visitation centers should consider as their highest priority the safety of children and adult victims and should treat both with equal regard.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

Visitation centers play a critical role in fostering the safety of children and adult victims during a time of increased danger when the parents separate.[1] As more visitation centers increasingly work with families experiencing domestic violence and respond to the needs of children and adult victims, it becomes critically important that center services build safety into their practices and management structure, and work within their community collaborative.

If safety concerns are not adequately addressed, supervised visitation and exchange can increase a batterer’s opportunity to commit continued, and sometimes lethal, violence against children and adult victims; to follow through with threats to abduct the children; or to further the abuse by stalking, harassing, refusing to cooperate in the exchange or visit, or attempting to coerce adult victims into returning to the relationship.[2]

Because of these risks, visitation centers have become an essential service for cases involving domestic violence.[3] It is important, therefore, for visitation centers to understand that the safety needs of children and adult victims are often linked. Research shows that the well-being of children exposed to domestic violence can generally be restored if adult victims receive support to create safety and stability in their own lives,[4] which in turn can provide a safer and more secure environment for the children.

Visitation centers are not expected to eliminate all of the dangers or risks present in domestic violence situations. However, with careful planning, centers can take steps that will enhance the safety of children and adult victims to the greatest extent possible.

Multiculturalism & Diversity

Principle II states that visitation centers should be responsive to the background, circumstances, and cultures of their community and the families they serve.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

Decades of grassroots advocacy have helped shape how various systems respond today to domestic violence. Yet, only recently has this response begun to address issues of culture[5] or diversity in relation to such violence or the provision of services.[6]

Generally, individuals, organizations, and communities often experience the world through their own cultural lens, whether it is recognized or named as such. Well-intentioned service providers, including visitation centers, have often established uniform approaches to services to increase efficiency or to make use of scarce resources.

However, a one-size-fits-all approach to delivering visitation and exchange services can limit a visitation center’s ability to assess its own organizational culture and to recognize and be responsive to the different culture(s), life experiences, values, and circumstances of the individuals, families, and communities coming into contact with its services. Failure to understand the social and cultural context of those who use visitation centers can lead to decisions that increase the risks to children and adult victims and reduce the usefulness of services.

While many visitation centers operate with limited resources, it is important to realize that the most cost effective way of providing services may not be the safest or most culturally appropriate. Valuing multiculturalism and diversity requires individuals and organizations to engage continually in self-reflection and self-critique, to become aware of their own cultural identities and backgrounds, and to examine their own patterns of unintentional and intentional bias against or for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, socio-economic status, disabilities, or other axes of identification.[7]

Individuals experience their culture(s) differently and respond to traditional cultural values in different ways and to varying degrees. An individual’s cultural reality comes from the unique perspective based on that person’s life experiences in the context of the cultural groups in which she or he moves.[8] Visitation center staff, therefore, must be willing to listen to and try to understand the individual experiences and perspectives of those with whom they work. Incorporating multiculturalism and diversity into center practice can enhance safety and lead to better outcomes for children, adult victims, and batterers.[9]

Understanding DV

Principle III states that visitation centers should demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the nature, dynamics, and impact of domestic violence and incorporate that understanding into their services.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

Domestic violence involves a complex pattern of behaviors that take many forms (physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial) and are used as a means of controlling the other partner. These behaviors are neither impulsive nor a result of poor anger management, but rather are purposeful and instrumental to maintaining compliance of the victim. When adult victims leave their batterers, the likelihood increases significantly that the batterers will escalate their violence, kidnap or threaten to kidnap the children, stalk, attempt to undermine the relationship between children and adult victims, attempt to use the court system and service providers as tools of the abuse, and attempt to involve the children in the abuse. A heightened understanding of the nature, dynamics, and impact of domestic violence can help visitation center staff have a more comprehensive view of battering behaviors and how batterers often attempt to control the situation, the adult victim, and the children.


Battering Behaviors

Batterers often minimize or deny their violence or project blame on others, and they can appear charming and in control. Visitation center staff who do not understand the nature and dynamics of domestic violence may have difficulty believing the batterer has abused the children or adult victim, and unwittingly comply with a batterer’s tactics.

Visitation center staff, therefore, need to be aware of the ways batterers may attempt to use the services to threaten, intimidate, and control their victims. A sampling of tactics batterers use in a visitation setting include frequently changing the visitation schedule in a way that causes problems and anxiety to children and adult victims; passing messages to the adult victim by way of the children; or bringing to the visit a toy or object that the children or adult victim associates with past abuse.

Supervised visitation and exchanges are artificial situations that have protections built in to ensure the safety and appropriateness of the visit or exchange. In this context, a batterer is highly motivated to follow the rules. Therefore, it is important for visitation centers to understand and articulate to collaborative partners that observations of no battering behavior in this artificial setting provide little if any information needed to predict future behavior.

Victim Behaviors

Victims of domestic violence often experience repeated threats, violence, and intimidation, as well as physical, sexual, financial, emotional, and psychological abuse. Constant, repeated exposure to such abuse can have a profound effect on how adult victims perform daily activities, think, interact on a personal level, and view their sense of self.[10] Victims may also be in denial about the actual risk from their batterers and may take responsibility for the abuse.

The history of abuse experienced by adult victims and the concerns or fears they may have for themselves and their children create the context for their behavior. It is important for visitation center staff to understand this context in order to respond better to the needs of children and adult victims. Without such understanding, center staff may misconstrue a victim’s protective behavior as being unfriendly, uncooperative, or antagonistic toward staff or the other parent,[11] which may in turn distract staff from ensuring safety for adult victims and instead focus their attention on the batterer’s articulated needs.

It is also important for visitation center staff to understand that the victim of domestic violence may not be the custodial parent; and that although both parents may have a criminal record, only one of the parents poses an ongoing risk to the children or the other parent, or that the parent with such a record is actually the victim, not the batterer.[12]

Children’s Behavior

Domestic violence plays out differently in every family experiencing such violence; therefore, children and adult victims coming to visitation centers will have their own unique safety needs, with the children’s safety and well-being often dependent on the adult victim’s safety.[13] More than two decades of studies show that in families where women are abused, many of their children also are abused or neglected.[14]

Other studies have found that children who are exposed to domestic violence often exhibit behavioral and emotional problems, cognitive functioning and attitude problems, and longer-term problems.[15] In addition, children may demonstrate good behavior in the presence of the batterer and act out in the presence of the adult victim for many reasons not readily apparent to or understood by visitation center staff.[16] The opposite could also occur if the children feel safe with staff present.[17] Understanding that children could have their own valid reasons to criticize or be afraid of the batterer is important to understanding more fully the safety needs of children and adult victims.

Respect & Fairness

Principle IV states that visitation centers should treat every individual using their services with respect and fairness, while taking into account the abuse that has occurred within the family.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

The goal of the Supervised Visitation Program is to promote the safety of children and adult victims of domestic violence during visitation and exchange. Individuals using visitation center services often do so because one family member has abused another. Because the majority of families who use visitation or exchange services are often doing so by court order, adult victims may feel re-victimized and powerless, particularly if they are the visiting parent; batterers may feel that the court and the visitation center are siding with the victim; and the children may feel responsible for the abuse and its consequences. In addition, individuals often view visitation center staff as holding positions of power, a perception that may be underscored if staff are not representative of the community in which the center operates.

Even so, visitation centers can still acknowledge the abuse perpetrated by the batterer and provide for the safety of children and adult victims while treating all individuals with respect and fairness. Treating individuals fairly and courteously, as well as recognizing each individual’s right to personal dignity, is a cornerstone to the provision of effective visitation and exchange services.

Understanding the issues that impact the individuals using visitation and exchange services, including issues of poverty, homelessness, immigration, and unemployment, will help visitation center staff gain and retain the trust of each person using the center. To that end, responses to battering behavior need to be accomplished in a manner that does not dehumanize the batterer. If a batterer has a positive reaction to using the visitation center, safety for children and adult victims may be enhanced.

However, visitation center staff need to be cognizant of the power imbalance inherent in a relationship where one parent has been abusive to the other. In such cases, fairness is rarely achieved through notions of sameness or impartiality. Each individual using the visitation center has her or his own unique experiences that must be accounted for in designing appropriate visitation and exchange services. Fair and respectful treatment of all individuals, while not ignoring the circumstances that bring families to the center, promotes the overall goal of the center—ensuring the safety of children and adult victims of domestic violence and holding batterers accountable for their actions.


Principle V states that visitation centers should seek to operate within a community collaborative which has as its goal to centralize safety of children and adult victims and hold batterers accountable. The community collaborative will strive (1) to ensure a holistic response to each family member’s needs; (2) to stop continued abuse of children and adult victims; and (3) to eliminate the social conditions that cause intimate partner violence.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

Separation is often the catalyst for long-term safety concerns and potentially dangerous circumstances for children and adult victims that require appropriate services and community dialogue in order to balance the safety needs of children and adult victims with parental access to the children. The need for safe visitation and exchange does not exist in isolation of other issues threatening the safety and well-being of individuals using those services, such as substance abuse, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, undocumented-immigrant status, disabilities, functional illiteracy, unemployment or underemployment, gender bias, rural isolation, and other social and cultural differences.

Visitation centers are well positioned to work with the broader community to identify the needs of families and community members in areas fundamental to safety and well-being (e.g., domestic violence and legal advocacy, housing, nutrition, income, employment, education, health, and transportation). The responsibility for balancing safety and access in these situations rests not only with the centers, but also with the communities in which they operate. Therefore, centers should work as part of a broad community network that responds holistically to a family’s range of needs.

Visitation centers provide a service that is part of a larger consortium of services designed to enhance safety and protection for children and adult victims of domestic violence. To be successful in meeting their mission, centers funded under the Supervised Visitation Program must operate within a collaborative framework that includes a partnership (grantee, visitation centers, courts, and domestic violence or sexual assault programs) and a community collaborative (other community members and services).

The partnership is the primary source of information and services surrounding use of visitation centers. Visitation centers receiving funding through the Supervised Visitation Program are required to establish working relationships with each partner. It is at the partnership level that important issues such as effective case processing, information exchange, and safe services can be addressed. Cooperation and active participation from each partner are essential.

The community collaborative refers to a network of resources for children and adult victims of domestic violence and includes the partners, social service agencies and other service providers, child welfare agencies, law enforcement, health care systems, faith institutions, neighborhood and cultural associations, community leaders/people of influence, and families who use visitation services and their friends and extended family members. These collaboratives can address systemic, policy, or legal barriers to achieving safety and well-being for children and adult victims through community-based efforts that prioritize safe and appropriate custody and visitation arrangements; identify barriers to service delivery; reach out to community members not accessing services; support the understanding of the role of visitation centers within the community; participate in community efforts to resolve other issues such as substance abuse, poverty, racism, or gender bias; and identify solutions to service fragmentation.

Family members are often drawn into a complex maze of legal, administrative, and service-oriented processes during the protracted period of determining visitation and custody arrangements. The combined community response to the family can be fragmented, often involving several cases, agencies, and dozens of practitioners. These multiple levels of interventions can contradict one another, be so broad that they miss important opportunities to address victim safety, or actually produce actions that can endanger adult victims. It is the responsibility of the community collaborative to identify and address gaps in services.

Both the partnership and the community collaborative are instrumental not only in providing safe services for the individuals using visitation centers, but also in identifying and eliminating barriers to achieving safety and stability for children and adult victims.


Principle VI states that visitation centers should work with the community collaborative to ensure that children and adult victims have meaningful access to services and should actively link individuals to those services.

The Supervised Visitation Program Philosophy and Perspective

For purposes of this document, advocacy[18] can be defined as working with children and adult victims to understand their circumstances and experiences of violence and abuse in order to provide accurate information about and referrals to available services that can best meet their individual needs. Advocacy includes linking children and adult victims to trained domestic violence service providers and other appropriate resources and supportive services.

An essential component of effective advocacy is having supportive community conditions, community-based intervention services, policies, and resources that centralize victim safety and hold batterers accountable. Because visitation centers are one of the few services that interact with each member of the family, they are in a unique position to identify the needs and gaps in visitation and exchange services, both for individuals and for the community at large.

Advocacy has been a longstanding role and function of most programs concerned with the safety of children and adult victims of domestic violence. Visitation and exchange services can supplement traditional victim services by offering supervised settings in which parent-child relationships can continue safely.

Visitation centers can serve as a gateway through which needed services can be more readily accessed by children and adult victims who may not be aware of additional services available in the community. However, it should be understood that visitation centers do not advocate for, or speak on behalf of, adult victims of domestic violence or serve as domestic violence advocates within the overall scope of the visitation center. Rather, visitation centers can work with the community collaborative to ensure that children and adult victims have direct access to trained domestic violence advocates and culturally appropriate resources available to assist them in securing a range of supportive services.

When visitation center staff take time to understand the issues that children and adult victims face, they can better provide accurate information about and referrals to resources. In addition, visitation center staff that have such understanding are also more equipped to provide appropriate referrals for parents who batter to address and change their battering behavior, to stop using violence, and to prevent further harm caused by domestic violence.

[1] Walter S. DeKeseredy, McKenzie Rogness & Martin D. Schwartz, Separation/Divorce Sexual Assault: The Current State of Social Knowledge, 9 Aggression & Violent Behav. 675 (2004).

[2] Maureen Sheeran & Scott Hampton, Supervised Visitation in Cases of Domestic Violence, 50 Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 13, 14; see also Peter Jaffe, Claire Crooks & Samantha Poisson, Common Misconceptions in Addressing Domestic Violence in Custody Disputes, 54 Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 57, 60 (Fall 2003) (discussing one study where 25% of the women reported that their lives were threatened during access).

[3] Sheeran & Hampton, id.

[4] Susan Schechter & Jeffrey L. Edleson, Open Soc’y Inst., Domestic Violence & Children: Creating a Public Response 5-6, 11 (stating that women’s psychological well-being and mental health is strongly associated with obtaining multiple forms of social support including financial aid, social services, legal assistance, and informal social networks).

[5] One definition of culture is shared experiences or commonalities based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, socio-economic status, physical abilities, or other axes of identification. See, Michael M. Runner & Sujata Warrier, Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), Cultural Considerations in Domestic Violence Cases: A National Judicial Education Curriculum, Section 2.21 (2001).

[6] Tricia B. Bent-Goodley, Culture and Domestic Violence: Transforming Knowledge Development, 20 J. Interpersonal Violence 201 (2005).

[7] See, Melanie Tervalon & Jann Murray-Garcia, Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education, 9 J. Health Care for Poor & Underserved 117 (1998), as cited in Praxis Int’l, Inc., A Discussion of Accounting for Culture in Supervised Visitation Practices: The City of Chicago, Illinois Demonstration Site Experience (Dec. 2005).

[8] Patricia St. Onge et al., Nat’l Community Dev. Inst., Through the Lens of Race and Culture: Building Capacity for Social Change and Sustainable Communities (2003)

[9] Firoza Chic Dabby & A. Autry, Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), Activist Dialogues: How Domestic Violence and Child Welfare Systems Impact Women of Color and Their Communities (2005); Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), Cross-Cultural Solidarity (2005).

[10] Nat’l Cent. for Victims Crime, Domestic Violence, at http://www.ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentView&DocumentID=32347#4.

[11] See Clare Dalton, Leslie Drozd & Hon. Frances Wong, NCJFCJ, Navigating Custody & Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide 25 (2004, revised 2006) (citing Am. Psychol. Ass’n, Issues and Dilemmas in Family Violence: Issue 5, at

[12] Id. at 13.

[13] Susan Schechter & Jeffrey L. Edelson, NCJFCJ, Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice 11 (1999).

[14] Id. at 9.

[15] Jeffrey L. Edelson, VAWNet Applied Research Forum, Problems Associated with Children’s Witnessing of Domestic Violence (revised Apr. 1999), at See also Schechter & Edelson, supra note 1, at 11.

[16] Clare Dalton, Leslie Drozd & Hon. Frances Wong, NCJFCJ, Navigating Custody and Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide 12 (2004, revised 2006).

[17] Id.

[18] As noted in Principle V, Community Collaboration, harmful or ineffective systemic responses identified by the visitation center and the individuals who use its services, domestic violence practitioners, the courts, and others, particularly those issues related to post-separation violence, can be addressed through the work of the community collaborative; in this way, the center’s advocacy efforts can expand beyond individuals and effect overall systems change.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-TA-AX-K023 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this website/publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice or the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.