Windsor

Kids with an incarcerated dad face extra challenges this Father's Day

Due to COVID-19, institutions have closed their doors to visitors, forcing inmates to rely on video or phone calls to connect with family this Father's Day.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, visits to dad are cancelled

Jessie's fiance, and father of their daughter, is in a federal prison hours away from where the family lives and has only spent one Father's Day with their child. (Submitted by Jessie )

Jessie's four-year-old daughter will be "lucky" if she gets to see her dad for even 15 minutes this Father's Day weekend. 

That's because he's serving a sentence in federal prison — in the midst of a global pandemic.

Jessie's full name is not being disclosed to protect the identity of her family and daughter. 

Since Jessie's fiancé entered Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont. two years ago, the Windsor-Essex couple's daughter has spent only one Father's Day with him. 

Though distance has played a role in keeping them apart, COVID-19 adds a new set of challenges, Jessie said. Institutions have closed their doors to visitors, forcing inmates to rely on video or phone calls to connect with family. 

"Now we're lucky to get even 15 minutes … [video calls are] in such high demand because there's no in-person visits," she said, adding that typically they would get an hour. 

With institutions closed to visitors due to COVID-19, Jessie doesn't know when her daughter will get to see her dad next. (Submitted by Jessie)

Jessie's daughter won't be the only one fighting for virtual quality-time with dad.

In Windsor, nearly 3,500 youth are estimated to have a parent in prison or jail. Across Canada, an estimated 357,000 children have an incarcerated father, according to 2007 research by the Canadian Families and Corrections Network. 

While the organization's executive director Louise Leonardi notes these numbers may have changed after some inmates were released due to COVID-19, she says there's still a significant number of children with an incarcerated father. 

At the best of times, visiting a parent in an institution is difficult — and it will be even more so this year, Leonardi said. 

"Not being able to visit, especially at a time where you want to honour your dad and you want to share some time with him ... it's very sad for them and just troublesome," she said. 

Letters to dad 

The overwhelming demand for phone and video calls means kids have to rely on another way to communicate: letters. 

Both Leonardi's organization and Kids with Incarcerated Parents Canada have been encouraging youth to write a letter to dad this year. 

Kids with Incarcerated Parents (KIP Canada, formerly known as FEAT — Fostering, Empowering, Advocating, Together for Children of Incarcerated Parents) is a Toronto-based organization run by Jessica and Derek Reid.

"Everyone for Father's Day, provided it's a healthy relationship, what they want is a hug and to see their parent," Derek said. "So it's really a tough year."  

One of the letters a child supported by KIP Canada is sending this Father's Day. (Submitted by Derek Reid)

Since Leonardi's and Reid's groups can't help facilitate in-person visits, video chats or phone calls for the families they support, they've sent out letter-writing kits instead. 

Some institutions are strict about the materials that can be sent in, so certain cards won't even make it to dad because of the glue, glitter or crayon that is used. 

'Many other definitions of family' 

While COVID-19 may have made this Father's Day extra challenging, children of incarcerated parents typically encounter barriers with visitation.

Policy restrictions, including youth requiring a guardian to visit their parent, along with distance and issues with transportation are common issues these children face.  

Derek and Jessica Reid, founders of KIP Canada, have sent out letter-writing kits to the children they service and are providing virtual support to families. (Submitted by Derek Reid )

"It heightens the distress and the pain that they go through," Jessica said, adding that while it is especially true for Father's Day, it's also the case on any other day. 

On top of that, this time of year would typically bring Father's Day school events or crafts with it — all of which adds more embarrassment and shame for kids, Derek said. 

"We really have to think beyond just what the typical family used to look like — and that there's so many more definitions of family," he added.

Back in Windsor-Essex, Jessie anticipates this Father's Day will still be difficult for her daughter, but because school's out due to COVID-19 the occasion might be "easier" as there won't be any crafts or events to avoid. 

About the Author

Jennifer La Grassa

Reporter/Editor

Jennifer La Grassa is a reporter/editor for CBC Windsor. Email: jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca

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