By Launi Jones-Sheldon, Partner and Attorney
At any time in the custody evaluation process, an evaluator may decide a home visit is appropriate. The purpose is to experience how a parent and child interact and view the condition of the home first-hand.
Typically, evaluators (or individuals they hire to assist them with home visits), plan to spend 2-3 hours observing a parent and child, as well as the child’s and parent’s interactions with other family members. A home visit may include observing the parent and child cooking and eating a meal together, playing a game or with toys together, or working on homework together. It also will include a review of the areas of the home in which a child may play, sleep, and eat.
Parents can practice the activities they plan to engage in with the children prior to the home visit. I recommend parents start approximately two weeks before the planned visit. This is not coaching, rather it is ensuring that he/she is presenting the best picture of their home and parent-child interaction. It should not appear as though a parent has not even considered the evaluation or failed to complete prepare for the home visit. In fact, the evaluator expects parents during home visits to put forth their best self and make good choices about the activities they choose in the child’s best interests.
Tips for the home visit:
- Parents should have the house and child’s room cleaned at least two weeks prior to the home visit, and keep it clean for the home visit. This includes ensuring there are age appropriate toys, clean clothes, clean diapers, trash/dirty diapers removed, food in the refrigerator, and age-appropriate childproofing throughout the house (plug covers, anchored furniture, medications or guns out of reach/access, and sharp edges covered). If crawling children are present, consider cleaning the carpets/rugs. It’s a good idea to display children’s artwork or successful school projects/tests such as on the refrigerator. In addition, there should always be a pool fence or pool net, and there should not be animal feces indoors or excessively outdoors.
- At least two weeks in advance of a home visit, you should practice playing with children by engaging in several different games or using several different types of toys. Choose activities that the child enjoys and that are age appropriate. Watching television or other electronic devices, or playing video games, is not advised. If a child knows what to expect and has done the activity before, the child is more likely to be happy, comfortable, and cooperative when the evaluator is present. Further, this sort of “practice” prevents frustration and confusion for the child.
- During the visit, speak proudly and positively about the child to the evaluator and in front of the child. However, be careful not to brag to the point that it appears unnatural or makes the child uncomfortable.
- During the visit, if asked or if appropriate, make positive complimentary statements about the other parent. Do not speak about the case to the child or in the child’s earshot or view. Again, be sure not to appear unnatural when making these statements.
- Refrain from whispering to the child in the evaluator’s presence and plan to speak in English unless permitted to use another language.
- Have a plan in place for how to discipline or correct the child if that becomes necessary during the home visit. Be careful and thoughtful in discipline or correction of the child. At the same time, do not engage in discipline that is so out-of-character as to alert the child (and the evaluator) that you are “acting” and not being genuine.
To learn more, please visit the Strategic Legal Services website at https://www.strategiclegalservicesaz.com/
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