By Dennis Pinto

As the world has changed drastically over the past few months, Lutheran Family Services of Virginia has made adjustments to continue our programs without interruption— and Visit Coaching is no exception.

Visit Coaching is a relationship-based and trauma-informed practice for parents whose children have been removed and placed in the child welfare system. This practice was developed by Dr. Marty Beyer to address needs found in the traditional model of supervised visits. In that model, parents’ needs were often neglected, and case workers became frustrated because visits were not good indicators of whether the parent was ready to reunify with the child. Visit Coaching attends to the needs of both parent and child and trained visit coaches develop strong relationships with everyone involved.

One of the responsibilities of a visit coach is to coordinate contact with the family, legal guardian, and the foster parents of the children. The Smith family (name changed to protect privacy) was referred to LFSVA’s Visit Coaching program after their children were placed in care due to neglect. I was assigned to the family in August 2019.

The Smiths have three children who were placed in three separate foster homes. Children being placed separately can be particularly challenging to reunify together. Visit coaches are responsible for coordinating visits with parents to help them prepare for the day their children come home. The Smiths decided the time and location of visits, including the local library, community parks, and even GalaxyCon, a local FANDOM event in Richmond. They tried to keep visits much like a “normal” activity the family would do if the children were still living at home. One of the most memorable was a visit home during Christmas. The parents worked tirelessly to cook all of the food the boys requested. They reassured the boys of their unconditional love by welcoming them home — even if it was temporary.

Since the spread of COVID-19, in-person visits have stopped, and the Smiths and their children’s foster families have coordinated video chats. Delays in visits have slowed the reunification process for many families. One of the new challenges to continue these visits is technology. Many families do not have broadband or equipment. Additionally, finding software that can allow a connection among four households and a visit coach that has sufficient privacy features has been tough. The Smiths have been luckier than most and they have been able to maintain connections with the help of their foster families. I have been checking in weekly and everything has been going well.

But like most families, they are not perfect and there is always room for improvement. The Smiths’ willingness to cooperate and follow all rules set by the Department of Social Services and by me made the process organic and healthy. Mr. Smith said, “The visit coach is there to help and give us suggestions about the children. If there are any problems, he coaches us. We are also glad our coach is there for us to visit our kids.”

This family is by far one of the most caring, loving, and inspiring that I have ever had to pleasure to meet. The Smiths always put their three boys first and have met their wants and needs.

To learn more about LFSVA’s Visit Coaching Program, go to https://lfsva.org/visit-coaching/.  If you want to know more about the Visit Coaching practice, you can find information at https://www.visitcoachingcommunity.com/.