Adapting for Now, Learning for the Future: Sabrina’s Place Visits Go Virtual

TAP created Sabrina’s Place to facilitate face-to-face interaction while protecting participants’ physical and emotional health during custody exchanges or court-ordered child/parent visits. Now, a microscopic threat—one capable of penetrating a number of our carefully planned physical safeguards—has forced us to rethink what it means to keep people safe in our center.

Safety First

TAP designed Sabrina’s Place to prevent physical and emotional harm. With its foundational focus on safety,  Sabrina’s Place has separate parking lots, different waiting areas, and off-duty Roanoke City police officers providing security. Monitors escort families through the center at all times. However, all the locked doors and security cameras in the world can’t address the threat of a respiratory virus. As the threats to our clients evolve, so too must the services we provide to mitigate those threats.

Fortunately, technology has evolved steadily since Sabrina’s Place’s founding—it’s now cheaper, more widespread, and more accessible than it was in the past (although problems with accessibility still linger). A family’s ability to access video-based services using Wi-Fi and mobile devices is more common now.

A New Set of Security Concerns

Like many others, we’re exploring technologies we might not have considered before—for example, virtual visits. Despite video conferencing’s widespread use, it still carries risks and downsides. We’ve all heard the news stories of so-called “Zoombombers” or otherwise inappropriate third-party call participants hacking into online video chats. This lack of security and control makes such options a nonstarter for Sabrina’s Place: no matter the venue, we must still protect our clients’ personal information and monitor visits for signs of mental or emotional abuse.

Thankfully, platforms created to facilitate telehealth calls offer Sabrina’s Place a secure and tested medium over which to conduct visits. With a HIPPA-compliant platform, monitors can focus on making sure the content of the visits is appropriate.

The Right Fit for Some Families—Even Without the Virus

Virtual visits could turn out to be the best trauma-informed change to Sabrina’s Place’s design in years. Over the years, we have noted that some children are apprehensive about visits with non-custodial parents/guardians. This could be a great way to ease children into visits–especially those children who have experienced large gaps in visitations over time. 

Sabrina’s Place is also the only secure supervised visitation program serving the western half of Virginia—as well as large portions of surrounding states—providing services free for the families who need it. Some families drive hours to have their visits at Sabrina’s Place. The option to supplement or replace those in-person visits would ease their time and travel burden.

Lessons to Take With Us

Best practices are always evolving—and they should be! Ahead of the switch to virtual services, TAP Housing and Human Services Director Stacey Sheppard talked with current and past clients.

After one client said, “I wish this had been available when I was a client, I would have much preferred video visits, especially starting out,” Stacey knew she had to think of the switch to virtual not as a temporary measure, but as a new part of the center’s operations moving into the future.