December 6, 2019 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Dr. Rachel Birnbaum, cross-appointed to Childhood Studies & Social Institutions program and to the School of Social Work, has had an article: “‘Virtual Parenting’ After Separation and Divorce,” published on Vanier Institute of the Family’s website.

Drawn from an interest in hearing from parents and children about their views and experiences with various forms of web-based technology used for parent-child contact (including texts, instant messaging, email, social networking sites, Skype, FaceTime and webcams) following separation, Dr. Birnbaum set out on the project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She explains how mental health professionals, lawyers and the courts have increasingly recommended virtual parent-child contact, yet very little research has been done on the risks and benefits of this new form of parent-child contact.

Over the course of over a year-and-a-half, Dr. Birnbaum undertook a survey of mental health professionals and lawyers to discover their views and experiences of virtual technology as a means of parent-child contact. She also conducted telephone interviews with seven parents and 10 children regarding their views and experiences.

Both surveys found that, when virtual technology is recommended as a means of contact after separation, consideration should be given to such factors as:

  • the child’s age
  • the length of the contact time
  • the degree of parental assistance required to facilitate virtual parent-child contact
  • if a child has any special needs and the resulting degree of parental support required
  • the type and degree of conflict between the parents
  • the type and degree of domestic violence concerns (e.g. stalking)
  • financial costs
  • the need to separate aspirational from practical and feasible parenting plans
  • hearing from children on their views on virtual parent-child contact before court orders or agreements are made and mechanisms to follow up on whether and how virtual contact is working for the children is necessary.

Dr. Birnbaum states that it was important to share the results of the project and circulate them to the broader community. Dr.  Birnbaum initially wrote a three-part series about the project in The Lawyer’s Daily. “Then to my surprise and absolute honour, the Vanier Institute of the Family picked it up and published it as well on their website in both English and French,” says Dr. Birnbaum. She adds that the larger research article on this topic (e.g. virtual parenting in child welfare and parenting disputes) and the results will be published in the Canadian Family Law Quarterly.

To read the article, please visit

At King’s, Dr. Birnbaum is cross-appointed in the School of Social Work and in Childhood and Social Institutions. She is also a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.

For more information on Dr. Birnbaum, please visit or