Video visits help whānau connect

10 September 2020

A man watching his three-year-old blow out the candles on his birthday cake enjoyed it so much, he asked for them to be lit once more so he could watch it again.

That’s one of the stories Senior Corrections Officer Lisa Rae recounts when she talks about video visits which have been held at Northland Regional Corrections Facility since May.

“It’s such a happy time, especially watching children. Often the dads haven’t seen where their children live and they like to show them their bedroom, or open their birthday presents, and stuff like that. They might get out a guitar and sing with dad,” Lisa says.

Video visits started during COVID-19 to help with the unease men felt about how their families were managing. However, Lisa says many of the men enjoyed the visits more than the kids visiting the facility, as they enjoy seeing the children in their own environment.

“It has also helped connect tāne with their families who aren’t able to visit in person as they live overseas. One man hasn’t seen his 10-year-old son for years, as he lives in Australia. But now he’s having a video visit every Saturday.

“Even families in Auckland are finding it good. It’s a four-hour drive to get here, and for some families the cost of that is too much, so video visits are working really well for them.”

Four sites were initially trialled for video visits, and have since been extended to all prisons and facilities.

Lisa Rae and her team helped the tāne in their care make 150 calls in the first two weeks. Certainly, NRCF is proving to be one of the busiest sites, with staff arranging up to 18 video visit calls a day. Visitors must be approved before the video calls are set-up – a process which can take a few days and clear guidelines that have to be followed.

“Since the video calls started, I’ve seen the men in our care attend birthday parties and two tangi with special guidelines. It was very emotional for one of the tāne to be watching the tangi by video, but they were both very grateful we were able to arrange it.

“Overall video visits are going really well, and we hope that keeping the men connected with their whānau will help to stop them re-offending,” she says.

Pauline Hopa, who leads the Māori Pathways work in Te Tai Tokerau, says she is heartened by the success of the video visit programme.

Māori Pathways is a major initiative to include and prioritise kaupapa Māori and whānau ora as tāne journey through the corrections system.

“Connection with whānau is an integral part of the Pathways kaupapa – not just with tamariki but wider whānau as well. This kind of video visiting is new for all of us, but I see great potential for using this channel to support our work,” Pauline says.