ACT News

Children of prisoners need more support

Children of Canberra prisoners struggle with shame and stigma, problems at home and school, unstable housing and a lack of support, new research shows.

A report by the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University has identified a need for more support to be provided to the estimated 400 children of prisoners at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The authors of the report interviewed children and young people aged between six and 18 and their parents and carers.

Report co-author Vicky Saunders said the needs and opinions of children were too often overlooked when their parents were arrested or sent to the Maconochie Centre.

''They almost need their own advocates,'' Ms Saunders said.

The report found that older children often had to take on extra family caring and financial responsibilities when a parent was incarcerated.


Young people told researchers that the incarceration of a parent had led to financial difficulties and electricity being turned off at home.

''In all honesty, I feel like I have nobody,'' one 15-year-old said.

Some young people who had one or both parents in jail, were forced to move in with friends, boyfriends or into refuges.

''Many young people stated that teachers didn't understand the difficulties they were experiencing, or they could not tell them because of the embarrassment or shame associated with parental incarceration.''

Young people wanted to be able to access support at school without being stigmatised for doing so.

Some children were told that their parents were away and only discovered through the media that they had been imprisoned.

Many children wanted to maintain relationships with parents in the AMC but were unable to visit if a carer did not wish them to do so or the family did not have enough money for petrol.

The report was commissioned by the SHINE for Kids organisation, which runs services for children of prisoners. The organisation will on Thursday officially launch new services at the AMC.

The organisation's staff and volunteers already run a program for children at the jail's visitor centre and have conducted ''homework sessions'' where children visit their parents at the AMC after school.

SHINE for Kids chief executive Gloria Larman said funding from the Commonwealth Bank would also allow the organisation to collect children from home and accompany them on visits to their parents at the AMC. The group has also run ''fun days'' at the AMC for the children of inmates.

''The children go in as a group and spend the day with their mums and their dads and it actually gives them some quality time together,'' Ms Larman said.

The Institute of Child Protection Studies research would be used by SHINE for Kids to help develop more support services for children and families.