Incarcerated mums can meet kids’ favourite toys, help with homework, catch up with family pets and stay involved in their family’s daily routines – thanks to the unique connection offered by a video visit.

The specific activities shared by families during a video visit was one of the insights presented by VACRO last month at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare’s OPEN Symposium on 27 October 2020.

Alongside Monash University criminology lecturer Dr Kate Burns, VACRO staff shared insights from our experience running a video visits pilot program at Tarrengower Prison.

We spoke on the successes of the pilot, discussed the questions video visits programs still pose, and considered how state and territory governments can strengthen video visits programs established in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • VACRO staff presented on the topic of video visits at last month’s Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare’s OPEN Symposium
  • We previously ran a successful video visits program at Tarrengower Prison, which showed that a video visit offers a unique and valuable experience for both parent and child
  • State and territory governments can use these lessons to strengthen their own video visits programs

VACRO’s Development Manager Melanie Field-Pimm told the symposium video visits improved an incarcerated mother’s sense of self, sense of wellbeing and confidence in her own parenting.

“The results of our pilot indicate that the use of digital technology has filled an important gap in the way incarcerated parents were able to connect, which significantly improves the lives of mothers, children, and primary carers,” she said.

An evaluation of the VACRO video visits pilot in 2019 found the visits complemented in-person visits, providing a unique opportunity for incarcerated mothers to share in everyday activities and parenting decisions, in an intimate environment less stressful than a contact visit.

While the evaluation established no form of visiting could replace the value of an in-person visit, video visits circumvented the discomfort of the prison environment and the effort of travelling to a prison.

Ms Field-Pimm said state and territory governments who had moved in-person prison visits online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic could learn from VACRO’s experience.

“Video visits in prisons work best in a family-friendly room, with family support provided by a community service who can assist the family and the parent to prepare, and with access to technical support for the family trying to connect.” 

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