By: Shawn Bayes, Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver
For over a decade, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver (EFry) has supported incarcerated moms to have contact and access to their children and provided moms with their children in prison early childhood development through strong-start programming. We use two manualized programs Growing Great Kids (child development and parent-child attachment program) and Growing Great Families (a family strengthening stress management and life skills curriculum for moms). The Growing Great curricula is used by many Indigenous child welfare agencies in Canada and supported as being appropriate for a diverse range of families. EFry also supports children to have prison video-visits with a counsellor present to support the child, and rebuild relationships where needed.
Weekly staff go to the prison and deliver the Growing Great curricula individually one-on-one with moms even before birth. The activities incorporate how best to develop their baby’s brain, body, and communication skills, build attachment, and understand developmental milestones. Strong parent-child attachment enhances children being able to manage their emotions, and learn and make decisions better. Moms even those with other children consistently speak of the value of the techniques learned, and being able to manage their emotions to respond in a more consistent way that promotes child independence.
Video visits are also particularly important for children long distances away and for whom the travel time and or processes involved aren’t developmentally appropriate. Paperwork, identification, and technology can also be barriers for both visits in person or virtually. EFry acts as a bridge and facilitator between the prison and home when needed to support visits such as in the case of a women held in the BC Forensic unit. In others, EFry serves as the visit hub coordinator so families without Windows Operating Systems (required for the prison’s technology) can participate. Video visits can also assist siblings in different care arrangements to visit their mom and baby sibling to develop a relationship and resolve feelings about siblings being split, or one child being in the custody of the parent.