Posts tagged ‘internet’

Illinois Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

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by Jeffery M. Leving

A non-violent felony conviction has landed Juan behind bars for the next three years. As Juan is trying to adjust to prison life, his young son is trying to adjust to life without a father. Juan, like countless numbers of inmates in Illinois, is locked up in a correctional facility far from where his elderly mother, wife and son live. The high cost of transportation and related expenses make regular visitation unaffordable for the impoverished family.

Every time someone breaks the law, there are victims. While the system tries to bring justice to those victimized, new victims are created.  The plight of the incarcerated fathers may not evoke sympathy in many people.  However, I must point out that the grief and suffering of their children are exacerbated by a correctional system that is ill-equipped to address the pain of losing their fathers.

Research has shown that children whose parents have been incarcerated “experience anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, depression, preoccupation with their loss, sadness, grief, shame and fear following the incarceration.” However, children who often visit their incarcerated parents and do so under favorable conditions “exhibit fewer adjustment problems.” As for the prisoners, those who maintain strong family ties behave better during incarceration, re-enter society with better success, and have a lower rate of recidivism.

Many correctional facilities in Illinois are remotely located from the Chicago population. The sheer distance discourages many families from visiting their relatives in prison. The high costs of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the substantial amount of time involved, are additional inhibiting factors. Most importantly, however, the prison can be an inimical environment for children so that a visit there may be traumatic. As a result, many families opt for telephone contact. Unfortunately, telephone contact is totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it expensive for the families because all calls from prison must be collect calls, but also frustrating to the children because they do not  see their parents.

Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

For years, I have been warning of the damage done to children who grow up without contact with their fathers. Due to the large population of incarcerated fathers in Illinois, many children are growing up fatherless. Extensive research has shown that children whose fathers are involved in their lives perform better in school, complete more years of schooling, have fewer behavioral problems, have better cognitive and psychological development, experience less poverty, are less likely to drink and use drugs,  and have better self-control.

As the chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and as a fathers’ rights advocate, I have been pushing for the creation of a virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers in Illinois. This program will enable children to interact with their incarcerated fathers via real-time video and audio conferencing, eliminating the problems associated with traveling to and visiting the prison. Instead, visits can be scheduled in a child-friendly environment – with toys and appropriate furnishings and decorations.

I have co-authored an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to provide for reasonable visitation between a child and a non-custodial parent through electronic communication including video conferencing. This bill (SB1590) is awaiting a decision at the Illinois State Senate, and would give legal support to the virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers that I advocate.

Virtual visitation with inmates is not a new concept. The pioneer seems to have been the State of Pennsylvania, where a program began in 2001. The Pennsylvania Family Virtual Visitation, created by The Prison Society in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, provides high-tech video conferencing equipment that allows families to visit in “real time” with their loved ones who are incarcerated. For a small fee of $20, families can schedule a 55-minute visit once a month. According to The Prison Society, inmates, family members, and prison staff have expressed their support for and appreciation of this program. Correctional officers have reported that many inmates are better adjusted and seem happier after virtual visits. Virtual visitors express how important and meaningful the program is to the health and welfare of their families.

In Florida, there is a program called Reading and Family Ties, which allows incarcerated mothers to read stories to their children using live video via the Internet. The program has been credited with enhancing family unity, easing inmates’ transition back to society and improving literacy for both parents and children.

In Illinois, we, too, have had success with a pilot program for incarcerated mothers, but none for fathers. Through this incarcerated mother program, which was created through the partnership between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Women’s Treatment Center, staff are available to the families prior to, during and after each visit to address their needs, and to ensure that the visit is child-focused.

A subsidiary benefit of virtual visitation for incarcerated fathers is the rehabilitation of the father, but the most cogent reason for implementing this program is the welfare of the child. It is past the time for Illinois to enact a law and establish a program that help the tens of thousands of children have a relationship with their incarcerated fathers.

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March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

VIRTUAL VISITATION-New Technology is Changing the Way Divorced Fathers Can Connect with Their Children

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By Michael Gough

The reality of divorce for most men means that they will have less time to spend with their children. The average divorced father has only four days of visitation a month. For fathers who live in cities distant from their children, it can be months between visits. But, because a child’s world is always changing, unless you keep in touch regularly and consistently, you risk falling behind. Until recently, the only real option was to talk over the telephone, which many fathers say is insufficient to build or maintain meaningful bonds with their children, especially if they are young.

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But currently there is a new movement underway throughout the country to utilize advances in electronic communication technology to supplement non-custodial parents’ visitation time called “Virtual Visitation.”

Virtual Visitation has been referred to by many names: electronic communication, virtual parent-time, Internet visitation, computer visitation, video calls and others.  The common legal term is ‘Virtual Visitation,’ though it may vary from state to state or individual preference. Virtual Visitation involves using tools such as personal video conferencing, a webcam, email, instant messaging (IM) and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media to supplement in-person visits and telephone contacts between children and their parents.

Virtual visitation has many applications, such as:

  For divorced parents to communicate with their children
 
  For parents traveling on business or vacation to keep in touch with their family
 
  For grandparents to keep in touch with their distant family members and grandchildren
 
  For Families seeking a better way to communicate other than the telephone
 
  For children whose parents are overseas on military duty
 
  For elderly care facilities so family members can keep in touch
 
  For counseling centers for a way their patients can communicate with their children
 
  For supervised visits for parents and their children
 
  For domestic violence and high conflict situations
 
  Remote education

What Virtual Visitation is not is a replacement or substitute for in-person contact with your children. The most important contact you can have with your children is face-to-face.  Virtual Visitation is not intended to support or justify relocation or move-away cases by a custodial parent.

Virtual Visitation is an additional way to improve your communication with your children when you can not physcially be with them and should never be used to replace or substitute in-person or face-to-face visits with your children.

After my daughter was relocated from Utah to Wisconsin I had not seen her for about three months when I flew to Wisconsin to be with her for the weekend. She did not immediately run up and greet me, but hesitated. She was only four years old. Her father was now distant and it showed after only three months. A few weeks after I started using video calls with her I visited again and this time when she saw me, she ran up and hugged me. The difference: she had just seen me days earlier on the computer via a video call. I was able to read her stories, show her that I was there for her, which helped us to build lasting memories and the security that children need to have with their parents.

If your children are young, you can read them stories, or they can read to you. You can teach them how to type, use Instant Messaging to send you greetings, play games, show them their favorite stuffed animals, their pets, pictures or any other personal affects. They can show you their teeth that they lose with incredible clarity. Another major benefit is that other extended family members can participate. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends can all communicate over a video call to keep the sense of family fresh in their minds and reinforce we are there for them.

As children get older, you can help them with their homework, help with spelling lessons, language lessons, play musical instruments and provide feedback on written assignments. The custodial parent can even ask the non-custodial parent for help reinforcing a parental decision over a video call.

Many psychologists support the use of Virtual Visitation because it is visual and therefore is a far better tool for connecting with children than the telephone.

Virtual Visitation can help reduce the impact of a divorce that involves a move-away, which affects roughly 25 percent of all divorces with children. A move-away situation can be very traumatic on children, as their fathers (or mothers) are removed from their lives and left to only a few in-person visits per year. Children change so rapidly, seeing them often helps you to stay close and reduce the adjustment that occurs when you first get together after a separation. The last time I saw my daughter when she left Utah, she had long hair. The first time I saw her on a video call three months later she had given herself a haircut and had very short hair. I was able to adjust to the change long before I saw her in-person again. So when we saw each other we were able to focus on each other and the child and parent bond, not on the impact of the changes that occur so rapidly with children. It reduced that adjustment to a few minutes, not hours or days. It was a remedy that helped reduce the impact of divorce for both of us.

During these extended visits with the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent can benefit by using Virtual Visitation to stay in touch with the children when they are away. But, a video call can never replace the real thing – the in-person contact that each of you need to build and sustain a lasting bond. Fathering cannot be replaced with a computer. Virtual Visitation is only a tool, a remedy, to help reduce the impact of divorce and father absence on children.

Some critics have suggested that Virtual Visitation legislation could make it easier for judges to allow move-aways. But the authors of Virtual Visitation bills have been careful to craft language that specifically protects against this type of misuse. However, if the courts do allow a move-away, Virtual Visitation can be a great benefit to both parent and child and help them remain connected between in-person visits. Most importantly, it helps children understand that their non-custodial parent has not abandoned them.

But Virtual Visitation is not just for move-away situations. There is no reason you can not use it even if you live around the corner from your children. The goal is to be there for you children, to let them know you are always available and to build long lasting relationships with your children that will last a lifetime.

Michael Gough is the founder of InternetVisitation.org.

March 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm 1 comment


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