Untested allegations of abuse or family violence

Mary Wells, BA, BSW, RSW

Supervised access to children is becoming a more frequent occurrence for families where there are allegations of family violence or abuse, or where a parent is alleged to have addiction or mental health disorders.

Supervised access may be done in the offices of a child protection agency, a family court clinic or by a private, supervised access professional.

canstockphoto3265631Once a decision has been made that there should be a period of supervised access, consideration should be given to the impact on the child in a supervised access setting. Planning and preparation ahead of the visits should be developed in consultation with the access supervisor, the referring professional and the parents to maximize this as a positive experience for the child and parents.

Factors that should be considered include:

  • The developmental stage of the child
  • A history of the family’s interaction that lead to the decision that access must be supervised
  • Whether the child may have directly suffered as a result of abuse or neglect
  • Where there is an allegation of family violence, the extent of the exposure of the child to the violence should be explored

canstockphoto8677454Referring professionals may have this information and if so should inform the access supervisor. If the referring parties do not have this information, it may be appropriate for the access supervisor to meet with the child for the purpose of making the assessment and a plan for addressing unresolved issues. This does not mean the issues have to be “fixed” prior to the access. It does mean however, that the supervisor will be prepared to intervene effectively to support the child.

Parental preparation of the child for supervised access

How the child is prepared for the supervised access can have a significant effect on both the child and the parents. Here are some do’s and dont’s for preparing a child for access:

 For custodial parents:

  • Reassure the child the supervisor will ensure the visit will be safe and as pleasant as possible
  • Do not instruct the child to attempt to gain any information from the non-custodial parent
  • Try to neutralize and normalize the situation for the child. For example, explain that “sometimes it works best for children to see their parents with somebody else present”
  • If a parent is very anxious about the access, discuss this with the access supervisor or other professionals who are helping you so they can keep your anxiety from affecting your child both before and after visits

For parents whose access is supervised:

  • When you see the child at the beginning of the visit, you can explain that you are visiting this way because sometimes, in some families, it works out best for children to see their parent with another adult who helps out.
  • Discuss ahead of time with the access supervisor what to expect during the visit (length of time, location of the visit, what you may or may not bring to the visit).
  • Discuss ground rules for the supervised access. For example, you will likely be told that you must not discuss court, family finances, the other parent or their family in front of the child. Do not ask the child questions about the other parent. These are often difficult issues for parents who can only see their children under supervision, and sometimes the parent forgets or breaks the rules. With the access supervisor, work out a signal that the supervisor can use to let you know you need to stop saying or doing something. This should be a signal you are comfortable with that the supervisor can use to not cause you to lose face. For instance you could ask the supervisor to say “Not just now”, or “We’re getting off track here” and you can agree to be guided by that signal.
  • Be aware that the access supervisors are expected to take notes and report on the visit.
  • Ask the supervisor if you can debrief with him or her after a visit and in preparation for the next visit.

Supervised access can be a significant opportunity to help the parents and the child in working towards a positive outcome for the whole family. Thoughtful, child centered preparations can make supervised access visits an opportunity for healing and growth as the family moves forward.



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Parenting Solutions through Separation/ Divorce


Another year has come and gone.   New year, for new changes. Like many of us, as the year ends we will reflect on the past with all the good, the bad to make resolutions for future change.

Many parents, both mothers and fathers, are reflecting on the past year as one of separation and divorce.  There are some common questions and scenarios with solutions for those in this situation.

Each year many relationships end in separation and divorce. “Out of about 59,000 total civil cases decided in all of Canada in 2011, over 53,000 were divorce cases”. Many parents in 2014 found themselves separated. If you were part of this category you may have experienced scenarios, which forced you to make some significant adjustments for you and your children. These adjustments often cause sudden financial and emotional struggles coupled with scenarios which can also cause emotional changes in your children behaviors. At times these situations can be described as never-ending.   Despite the issues faced in 2014 there have no doubt been some positives. You sought and found services and support for you and your children. You made sure your children were not exposed to the conflict. And you were determined to make it work, and it did.

It is a new year, 2015 is a time to make changes with new resolutions along with a commitment to continue to parent your children. In making the positive changes it is important to remember that children of divorce and separation cope better when there is a consistent routine and are allowed to be children while not exposed to parental conflict or guilt. It is also necessary as you make these changes to always remind your children that they are loved by both parents despite the decision to separate or divorce.

If you became a non–custodial parent in 2014, you like others will face situation that will feel like a no win situation. You will battle with feelings of hopelessness and loss of the relationship with your children. You will experience many common scenarios with many areas of conflict in regards to the children’s needs as you try to co- parent. You will also be faced with much criticism, accusations and more from those around you. There will be circumstances where you will need to negotiate with the other parent for access to your children. Those challenges and stressors faced in 2014 were actually opportunities to practice spending positive time with your children while helping them to adapt to the changes and understand they are loved by both parents.

As you make changes for 2015, it is important to remember to seek support and services from organizations and agencies such as Side By Side Services. No matter if you are the non-custodial parent, the primary parent or the newly divorced or separated parent, the scenarios are similar with solutions. As you move into 2015 be the change you want for yourself and your children. Continue to work towards building a healthy relationship with your children and find support and services to help meet these needs. In separation and divorce everyone is affected.

Parents who seek support and services for themselves and their children are more stable and adjust better than those who don’t. Continue to be consistent with what works well, listen to your children, be open to change and don’t stress the small stuff, (its ok if the children have junk food sometimes). Seek services such as or 416-518-1569 for support.

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Self Care and Parenting

In order to have a healthy body you also need to take care of your mind.

Many people turn a blind eye to their mental health before the symptoms overwhelm their personal life and affect their relationship with their family, friends and colleagues. Some discover the effects of a mental illness only when confronted with a legal battle or are in hospital. Symptoms of concerning mental health issues are unfortunately often ignored, resulting in many undiagnosed illnesses. It is important that we all routinely revisit and address our self-care needs and seek medical attention when symptoms first develop.

Consider persons diagnosed with mental illness and how we can help them? How do they manage their illness? But the question is; where do we go when our minds suffer?

Mental illness is a commonly misunderstood term, and notably people who believe that mental illness is an unusual condition often stigmatize other persons with mental illnesses. To those persons, don’t use names like “crazy” or “wacko” to refer to a person with mental illness. Educate yourself about the correct diagnosis of mentally ill individuals, do not judge or assume.

There are occasions in everyone’s life that our mental well being needs care by medical professionals. In those circumstances, seek help immediately.

Also, practising self-care and staying grounded can definitely change the circumstance of mental health. Regardless of how busy you are, it is important that you set aside time out of your busy schedule to do something for yourself; for e.g. but not limited to; going for walks or jogging, bubble baths, reading a great novel or simply just calling a friend to talk. Decrease stress by staying physically active and practice meditation to relieve anxiety and depression simply to give your mind a well deserved break. Lastly, treat persons with mental illness with deference and dignity. Maintain balance thinking so that your thoughts or feelings do not only influence how you treat yourself but how you care for others.

Keeping well includes seeking help immediately. Immediately seek medical attention and care when you feel you are struggling with a mental illness and its symptoms. Contact your family doctor, psychiatrist and/or call 911 when symptoms emerge.

This article is not to be either medical or legal advice.

Contact a lawyer if your legal matters may have either directly or indirectly been a result of symptoms of mental illness or if you have questions regarding your medical treatment.

Charlena Claxton, B.A. LL.B, Lawyer (Mental Health Law, Criminal Law, Family Law, Litigation) and Tarah Morgan, Paralegal  


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Co-Parenting through Separation


When two individuals make the commitment to enter into a relationship, this sometimes includes the commitment to be parents. With this decision and the commitment made by each, begins a plan of a lifelong partnership. Unfortunately many relationships can change for the worst and the only solution is separation. Today we know many marriages and common law relationships also end in divorce or separation. Families change when relationships end. Everyone is affected.


 The impact of separation and divorce can feel like a whirlwind of chaos and distress. For some it can be seem as a relief to new beginnings. The impact can also cause short and long term emotional effects. For some the effects are more of anger, frustration, depression, and feelings of loss of identity.

How a Child Copes with Divorce is Often

Determined by How the Parent Copes

When there are children involved the impact of divorce for parents and the effects can seem to multiply. Not only are parents trying to understand and manage their own emotions, cope with the sudden changes, but they also have to manage all the fe
elings, emotions, reactions and understandings of their children. The outcome of this can play a large impact on how parents handle this change and how they in turn help their child. How a child copes with divorce is often determined by how the parent copes. As seen in many research, for those who are the primary parent (often mothers) there are compounding issues to managing not only the emotion and the stress, but also the financial needs. 

If you are the parent with a childhood of living through your parents separation, your views of being a parent is often influenced by what you were exposed to. Often we parent based on what we believe. Sometimes if our experiences were negative we parent against those negative influences and exposures.   A mother speaks about her parents separation during her childhood and how it impacts her parenting. 


Very often custodial parents struggle with resentment due to non-custodial parents being seen as “the Disneyland Dad,” where visits are more planned and enjoyable with outings to restaurants and the movies. The custodial parent is often the one seen as enforcing full fledged parenting duties such as doing homework. (Niel Katter “Growing Up with Divorce Helping Your Child Avoid Immediate and Later Emotional Problems)

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