SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – In hindsight many are questioning why it was up to a social worker to protect the Powell children, and why the visitation was in a private a home. We asked local experts.
Visitation laws can vary from state to state, but in Utah, as in Washington, visitation and conditions are determined by the court. Elizabeth Solis, from the Utah Department of Human Services, says supervised visitation is common. “It occurs probably more than people realize. Supervised visitation often occurs in divorce cases where one parent has concerns about the other parent.”
Supervised visitation is considered an effective tool at keeping children who are living in the midst of custody chaos safe. Solis says the home is also the most common place for such visits to occur. "The home is the most natural setting to try to work with individuals and reunify."
The goal for children in state custody is usually reunification. Supervised visits are designed to keep children safe while parents proceed through the process of getting their children back.
While that may, in hindsight, may appear unreasonable in the Powell case, legal expert Greg Skordas points out, Josh was their father. "He is presumed to be a logical guardian for them, a good custodial parent for them, and unless somebody comes in with pretty compelling evidence otherwise, the state probably didn't have a choice."
In Utah, Solis says supervised visits can occur in neutral settings, such as a Family Support Center, but that is something determined by the court. She says what is done during the visit varies.” It could be as simple as sitting in an office with a child and guardian and taking notes about what's going on, or it could be going out on an event with the family whether its to dinner or bowling." Solis says some case workers have even attended holiday celebrations because it was required to ensure the child’s safety.
Solis says the case workers are trained to deal with difficult circumstances. She says there are times however, when no amount of training would be enough. “There are some situations that no matter how much training you have, you will never be prepared for what’s on the other side of that door."
In Utah, a case worker can ask for additional help if they feel threatened. Solis says they can also request law enforcement. She says each handles a very heavy case load and most do not ask for additional help.