Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Pacific L (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

Evaluation of a Project to Enhance the Safety of Domestic Violence Survivors in the Context of Supervised Visitation and Exchange: Reports from Program Directors

Dan Saunders, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cris M. Sullivan, PhD, Michigan State University, Marguerite Grabarek, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Richard Tolman, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Purpose The Safe Havens Program was designed to reduce the opportunity for domestic violence to occur during the transfer of children for visitation purposes by enhancing supervised visitation and exchange services. The accounts of program and site directors regarding lessons they learned in the early stages of the program are reported.

Methods Interviews were conducted with 18 center and project directors from 11 supervised visitation/exchange centers. The centers were in four states and included culturally specific programs. Interviews were conducted by the four members of the national evaluation team. Interviews began with a single open-ended question about the information the director would provide if asked to consult for a new program. A series of questions were used to probe for further information. The research team content analyzed the interviews. The interview information was supplemented with information from monthly Implementation Logs completed by the directors and from answers to open-ended questions on Semi-Annual Progress Reports. A checklist was also administered annually over the three years of the project to show any changes in policies, use of safety mechanisms, and implementation of risk assessment procedures.

Results The results of the qualitative analysis of the interviews revealed a number of distinct themes: 1) Consistent with the goal of Safe Havens, centers that were child focused are seeing the safety of survivors as important as the safety of children. Centers increasingly recognized that survivors were relatively neglected in the visitation/exchange process and has now shifted the focus more on survivor needs. 2) Many centers are attuned to needs of culturally diverse client populations, but these considerations did not appear to be in foreground of all centers. 3) Many new safety measures were perceived as helpful. Concerns about obtrusive/”oppressive” measures curtailed the original plans of some centers for some types of safety measures. 4) Continuing Conundrums. Despite the significant shifts in thinking and practice that can be attributed to the Safe Havens initiative, center and project directors said that they faced a number of ongoing dilemmas, for example: How much visit documentation is needed and desirable? When should risk assessments be conducted and by whom?

The qualitative findings about a reluctance to use “oppressive” forms of safety mechanisms and the increased attention to safety procedures were supported by quantitative findings using the annual checklist. The largest increases involved safety planning for the victim, and a list of “red flag” behaviors for staff to monitor. More centers began doing risk assessments for domestic violence. None of the centers used metal detectors because they were seen as too “intrusive”.

Implications With the help of technical assistance provided by the program, centers realized that survivors had been relatively neglected and regular inquiries about their needs was necessary. There was a “paradigm shift” in which increased attention to survivors occurred. Questions remain about how formal and assertive “check ins” need to be with survivors during or between weekly visits. Centers continued to struggle with several conundrums that are being addressed by centers nationally.