New visitation program helps reunite families

BATAVIA, OH (Sept. 23, 2019) — Before the 17-year-old girl and her mother, 50, entered the Family Healing Center – Clermont’s Therapeutic Visitation Program, things were bad.

“I did not have a relationship with my mom at all,” said Mary (not her real name), who is about to age out of foster care. “She was using drugs. I was using drugs. We were spiteful toward each other.”

But things have changed for the better, thanks to the visitation program. The partnership was started by Children’s Protective Services, a part of Clermont County Job and Family Services, in November 2018.

“Things are good now,” said Mary’s mom, parent of four children ages 32-17. She sees a positive future for herself and her daughter. Both plan on helping others, Mary as a social worker and her mom, possibly as a recovery coach.

Children’s Protective Services had offered visitation at the agency for two hours, once a week, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday.  A monitor in a separate room would watch four visitations on a TV screen with audio.

Now, 90-minute, twice-a-week visits are available 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. They occur in three levels:

“It can be difficult for kids to go home because there had been trauma there,” said Sara Faison, foster care and visitation supervisor. “And, now that the parent’s sober, rules in the home have changed. There’s a new sense of normal.”

Children’s Protective Services initiated the change to help improve relationships and speed reunification of families. The agency contracts with Central Clinic Behavioral Health, which provides a program director/therapist and two visitation specialists.

“They helped me and my mom work through my childhood trauma,” Mary said. “They helped us get a better bond.”

They also helped her mom get housing – and stay sober since January 2018. She regularly attends both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has been working the 12-step program with a sponsor.

“The counselors from Central Clinic helped tremendously,” the mom said. “Their knowledge, especially about setting boundaries, really helped.”

The Family Healing Center offers intensive therapeutic visitation services to children and families referred by Child Protective Services. The center uses evidenced-based treatment to enhance children and families to achieve overall health and wellbeing and build resiliency to alleviate barriers to reunification.  Its staff assists in healing damage from trauma.

“Most of the families involved in Children’s Protective Services have experienced traumatic events and exhibit an array of treatment issues such as mental health and substance abuse problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), parent-child relationship issues and trauma-related emotional and behavioral problems,” said Courtney Rohr, director of the Family Healing Center – Clermont. Rohr, a therapist, works for Central Clinic Behavioral Health.

“When treating trauma, our goals include parental and family growth such as effective nurturing, parent-child bonding and healthy communication,” Rohr added. “We provide diagnostic assessments where we talk about symptoms, what’s going on with the parents, and create treatment plans for services. We offer trauma-informed care. Any child who has been removed from the home has gone through some sort of trauma.” FHC also provides individual and family therapy.

To help with adjustment to reunification, six home or community visits take place. Visitation specialists prepare and debrief with parents after the visits, going over what went well, what didn’t, and how to handle situations next time. They try to model the home environment as much as possible, having birthday parties and inviting cousins, grandparents and siblings in foster care to participate in visits . Some bring in board games, crafts, meals, etc.

“A lot of them are trying to break a cycle,” Rohr said. “They might not have have a lot of good parenting modeled for them when they were growing up.”

Faison said some older siblings must adjust to no longer playing the parenting role to their younger sisters and brothers.

“It’s the only family they lived in, so they did what they could to live and survive,” she said.

Mary said the visitations fostered positive communication with her mom.

“We’re able to do things together now,” she said.

Twenty-six families were active with Central Clinic’s FHC in late summer, as part of their overall case plans. Other parts of the plan could pertain to drug or domestic violence treatment. Children ages 0-18 in families with one to five children participate.

Under the new system, the number of parental no-shows has declined, Faison said. And staff has been able to intervene and redirect parents to understand how their mental health impacts their kids.