Family Connections in a Digital World

Imogen Hopper

Victorian Association for the Care & Resettlement of Offenders
Video Visits Coordinator

While completing a double degree in psychology and criminology at The University of Melbourne, Imogen built skills and experience supporting vulnerable children in educational and criminal justice environments. This included supporting children visiting male offenders at Port Philip Prison, and supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2017 Imogen joined VACRO to deliver the digital personal video visits program for families of women incarcerated at Tarrengower prison. She simultaneously works as a post-release transitional Case Manager in the VACRO ReConnect Program. Outside of her work for VACRO, Imogen works in mental health advocacy and research, including working as a Research Assistant for the Target-D study on depression at the Faculty of General Practice, for the University of Melbourne. Imogen also currently works as a mentor in eating disorders recovery.

In 2017, Corrections Victoria (CV) undertook a pilot program with women prisoners and their children at Tarrengower Correctional Centre. The Family Video Visits Pilot enables mothers in custodial care at Tarrengower to have fortnightly video visits with their children at their home of residence, using Jabberguest software which was already utilised by CV for telecourt appointments. VACRO collaborated with CV, providing funding through philanthropy and a dedicated Support Worker, to facilitate and maintain the program.
This pilot program feeds into CV’s Reintegration Pathway by preparing mothers to return to their parenting role post-release, and preparing children for the parent’s re-entry into the home. It also provides an opportunity for families unable to visit the prison to have a greater level of personal interaction beyond telephone calls. This program was devised in response to considerable academic and empirical research that suggests family connectedness is a critical protective factor for recidivism post-release, and that frequent and regular contact with the incarcerated parent is beneficial to the child’s wellbeing.
This paper will outline the model including the critical factor of collaboration between Corrections Victoria and a community organisation and highlight the key outcomes established though evaluation.
“The video visits allowed my eldest daughter to open up about how she was struggling, she couldn’t do it in the visit centre and I couldn’t’ ‘read’ her properly on the phone.”