By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — What started as a pilot program to help incarcerated Philadelphia mothers remain connected with their children is now expanding to include fathers as well.
“Sometimes these disruptions are abrupt and there’s no time to say your goodbyes,” notes Anne Marie Ambrose, commissioner of the city’s Department of Human Services.
Ambrose says DHS, in cooperation with the Philadelphia Prison System, invested $5,000 to purchase a camera, flat-screen television monitor, and software (top photo) that allows parents who are behind bars to use videoconferencing to see their children, talk to social workers, and weigh in on important family decisions.
What sort of family decisions?
“Educational issues, health care issues, where they (children) spend their free time,” Ambrose suggested. “Those issues, I think, are really important for parents to be weighing in on.”
Attorney Kathleen Creamer helped start the program after using a Stoneleigh Foundation grant to research inefficiencies in the system.
The pilot began last fall at Riverside Women’s Correctional Facility, and Creamer says it’s gotten great feedback.
Now, DHS and the Philadelphia Prison System are expanding the program to men’s correctional facilities, and they want to get the word out.
“We’re trying to build awareness among social workers and among the families as well,” she tells KYW Newsradio. “We really want people to say, ‘Hey, I want to be Skyped or videoconferenced in for that meeting.’ ”
Creamer says one out of roughly every six to eight kids in DHS care have a parent behind bars.