Statement of the Problem
There are a number of legal and social circumstances that can precipitate a separation between parents and their children. Separations can occur due to suspected or actual physical or sexual abuse or neglect; physical or mental illness in parent or child that requires hospitalizations or that cause temporary or permanent parental incapacitation; sudden and acute medical traumas that require long-term treatment; military deployment; parental incarceration; residential placements, etc. Regardless of the cause of separations, a rupture in the parent-child relationship occurs that can create uncertainty, confusion, fear, or other concerns in children and their caretakers.
The circumstances of the separation may remain unclear to young children, and their memories may be vague, at best. When hurtful experiences have occurred, even after parental rehabilitation, children may continue to feel anxious or frightened around caretakers, sometimes without a full understanding of their feelings or concerns. When parent-child separations occur, situational and environmental changes may also take place, including children becoming wards of the state, living in group or foster homes, and attending different schools. Sometimes, children stay to live with one parent or move with extended family members. The Juvenile or Family Courts may be involved in determining when, and under what circumstances, it might be appropriate for these parent-child ruptures to be mended through a gradual reunification process.
A typical first step in reacquainting parents and their children is to require a period of supervised visitations. In the last decade there has been an increase in the number of agencies that provide Supervised Visitation services and the type and quality of services that are rendered occur along a continuum. Some agencies have licensed, trained mental health professionals, especially trained in monitoring visitation schedules¾untrained para-professionals or extended family members may also be designated by Courts to provide supervised visits. The overriding goal of these services is to provide a third party who oversees visits and monitors parent-child interactions to ensure that children are safe and comfortable.
Typically, supervised visitation schedules evolve over time to unsupervised visits, overnight stays, and eventually a more regular and/or more normative schedule of parent-child visits. Court involvement typically decreases and is eventually removed unless parents are unable to negotiate issues of custody and visitation on their own.
Description of Services
Gil Institute for Trauma Recovery and Education clinicians recognize the need for an additional service in which trained and seasoned mental health professionals, working within the context of attachment and child development domains, provide therapeutic parent-child sessions after separations. During these structured and coordinated therapy sessions, children have an opportunity to develop comfort with their parent, to adjust to their expectable feelings, to ask questions, and to adapt to the relationship that is currently available. In addition, clinicians will provide therapeutic guidance to parents and their children so that appropriate closure of the past can occur in order to move forward to re-establish an appropriate, empathic, and secure attachment. This course of therapy is undertaken when and if all treatment providers agree that it is in the best interests of the child and when parent/caretaker is willing to follow recommendations of treatment team.