Virtual Visits – A Family Sees Their Loved One for the First Time in 15 Weeks

This week as part of the launch of the new Scottish Prison Service (SPS) virtual visits scheme one of the families we support had the opportunity to see their family member for the first time in 15 weeks.

Virtual Visits are an SPS facilitated scheme, which lets prisoners see their children and families using video calling technology. In March of this year the SPS unfortunately had to cancel all family visits to Scottish prisons due to the threat of COVID-19. Families Outside often highlights the positive impact contact with a family member and maintaining that family relationship can have in reducing re-offending (up to six times.)  Since restrictions were imposed in March the SPS have been working hard to make virtual visits a reality and are pleased to be rolling this out to all prisons in Scotland by the end of June.

Families Outside were approached by Tom Fox from the SPS and a representative from STV News to ask if we were able to identify a family who would be willing and able to take part in the STV filming a news article for one of the first Virtual Visits in a Scottish prison. While the family we identified chose to remain anonymous, they were delighted to have the opportunity to see their loved one again.  The family said of the visit:

“Brilliant just having him there in front of us again; It’s been really tough especially for the kids, but having them see their father face to face it will be a big help for him and for them; Just to see his face and know that everything is alright is a huge weight off our shoulders and a big relief. In terms of his mental health it was getting to him not seeing his kids and you could tell he wasn’t being himself on the phone.

To be able to take part in a virtual visit families are required to have access to a tablet, laptop, data or Wi-Fi. Like many families the family we identified did not have a working device. Fortunately Families Outside were able to support the family to access funds that enabled us to buy a Kindle Tablet in time for their virtual visit. The family said, “I can’t thank Families outside enough for helping us to have this visit, buying a tablet for us and setting up the whole visit, it’s been the best birthday present ever”.

We recognise that for many families access to devices and data as well as being challenged technically and financially are all questions and concerns surrounding the virtual visits scheme. Families Outside are able to support families to connect with or access financial support.  The SPS are also working with partner agencies to look at how they can help families who need financial assistance in accessing virtual visits.

Whilst we know that virtual visits are not a substitute for families seeing their loved one in person, but until they are able to see their loved ones face o face again, we hope that virtual visits will be a welcome means of contact, particularly for children and young people who haven’t seen their mum/dad for more than 3 months.

“It just means everything to have seen him again, I can’t explain it but it was just amazing”.

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