Abstract: “Hi Dad. Look at Me!� Keeping Fathers and Children Connected with Video Visits during Incarceration (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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“Hi Dad. Look at Me!� Keeping Fathers and Children Connected with Video Visits during Incarceration

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Pajarita Charles, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Kerrie Fanning, Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Sarah Jensen, Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Margaret Kerr, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Michael Massoglia, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, PhD, Dorothy A. O'Brien Professor of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Jennifer Wirth, Project Assistant, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose: Recidivism of incarcerated parents is a significant problem associated with a range of negative consequences for children. While strong family bonds and contact have been linked to improved outcomes for parents and children, jails offer limited opportunities for communication, and especially in-person contact. Instead, jails rely on strategies like Plexiglas barriers (that prohibit touching) or phone calls (that are prohibitively expensive). The purpose of this study was to develop a technology-based intervention, combined with supportive coaching, to facilitate in-home video visits (VV) between jailed parents and children to increase family ties and enhance parent-child relationships. This paper presents the development and piloting of the Enhanced Visits Model (EVM) and reports preliminary findings on digital access and use of technology among fathers, as well as implementation challenges and successes.

Methods: We recruited incarcerated fathers who were 18 or older, had a child 3-12 years of age, had no child abuse convictions, expected to be incarcerated for at least 4 weeks, and were connected to a corresponding at-home caregiver. The EVM intervention was delivered between 7/2019 and 4/2020 to fathers who had access to VV technology in the jail (n = 28), and to matched caregivers (n = 28) and children (n = 36) at home, who were given tablets and internet access if needed (46% of cases). All fathers and caregivers received supportive coaching to facilitate positive VV experiences. Baseline, post-visit coaching, and 3-month follow-up interviews with fathers, caregivers, and children were collected and analyzed. Implementation data were assessed to understand digital access and video visit usage among the families.

Results: Fifteen of 28 families (54%) had at least one VV; 13 (46%) had none. Reasons for unsuccessful VV’s included technology difficulties, poor father-caregiver relationship quality, children living across households, and fathers released or transferred before VV’s could begin. Participants scheduled 614 VV’s; 549 (89.4%) were completed; 65 (10.6%) were missed. Of those completed, more than half (56.8%) ended because they reached the time limit allowed (45 minutes); the rest ended early because of the father (27.9%), caregiver (15.1%), or technical problems (.2%). The number of visits per father ranged from 1–111 (M = 36.6, SD = 29.2). Qualitative feedback was generally positive with emphasis on the benefits of using a familiar interface (like FaceTime), not having to go to the jail for plexiglass visits, and improved father-child relationship quality because of regular (often daily) communication. Challenges included unreliable technology and strained father-caregiver relationships that acted as barriers to VV’s.

Conclusions and Implications: Results affirm the value of promoting father-child VVs during incarceration and the important role of technology to keep families connected when physically separated. The EVM has implications for families involved with the criminal justice system, as well as social workers seeking to develop innovative and replicable models that take a social justice approach to supporting children of incarcerated parents. While additional development and testing of the EVM is needed, it provides a novel innovation that can flexibly respond to diverse family needs.