'She should have no rights to her child because she is a criminal': Prison visitation and mother-child relationship maintenance

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Continued close contact and visitation are key to successful reunification
Continued close contact and visitation are key to successful reunification

Ina Thompson, a member of the National Executive Board (NEB) of the South African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP), shares with Parent24 that children are prepared for visits to their mothers.

Social workers help the children to connect with their parent, and are invited to use tools such as a journal (appropriate for their age) to share during the visit. 

"The journal serves as a reminder of what the children would like to share with their mother, and ensures their mother remain part of their lives and is aware what is happening in their lives," she explains.

Continued visits

Thompson says that during the initial visits facilitated by the social worker, children are also introduced to the visiting system and procedures at the correctional centre. This is to ensure continued visits without the presence of the social worker. 

This article is one of a series on Mothers in Prison. Read the previous article here:  Rehabilitation, and hope for the future 

She says that it often happens that the visits are not facilitated, but that a family member accompanies the children to visit their mother.   

In these instances, the social worker can offer guidance to the family members and prepare the children for the visits with similar outcomes in mind as for facilitated visits. 

'She longed for her child'

Venessa Padayachee, a social worker and member of, told Parent24: "One lady whose baby was removed was put in foster care, and I remember it was two years later, and the foster mom hadn't brought the child to visit.' 

Padayachee tells us she intervened and spoke with the social worker at child welfare. 

"We agreed to take the two-year-old and his foster mom to visit, with the social worker. On the way there, I heard the remark by the social worker that this mom should have no rights to her child because she is a criminal. I had to disagree that the lady was still a mom and longed for her child." 

Padayachee admits it was heartbreaking to see that the child didn't want to go to the mom in prison, although eventually, he did. It was very painful for the mom, she says.

More of a stranger than a mother 

Paula Hildebrand, a clinical social worker in private practice and the Chairperson of the Social African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice tells Parent24 that sessions begin with the intent to encourage the rebuilding of trust and to tenderly and unhurriedly rediscover their relationship. 

She says the mothers are often so very passionate to be back with their children, while the children are often unsure of the woman who has become more of a stranger than a mother, displaying fear and insecurity often. 

"Occasionally, they express anger that needs to be appropriately dealt with in the sessions," Hildebrand says. 

A challenging experience for all

The aim is to understand each other anew and to build a connection and new ways of talking and being together. The child would have grown up in the time lost, and the mother may still expect the child to be as they last experienced them. 

The child may also be more bonded to their guardian than their mother, which has to be dealt with, Hildebrand says.

Many children have the opportunity to have access visits in prison with their parent, which is a challenging experience for all, but has the benefit of keeping connections and relationships intact. 

The difficulty is the strangeness of the setting in which they see their mother, as well as the "fish bowl" experience of not having the usual family privacy in their engagements, she says. 

Next: 'I told her I was in school, I wanted to tell her the truth in person'

Find the complete series here: Mothers in Prison: A Parent24 Series 


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