The ACT government has failed to make reforms removing barriers for children trying to see their parents in jail, despite funding a 2013 report urging change, a new study has found.
Children still faced multiple obstacles to seeing their incarcerated parents in the Alexander Maconochie Centre, including inadequate public transport and inflexible visiting times, while a program letting them do their homework on visits to the prison had stopped, the review said.
The study, published in the Children and Youth Services Review in November, found the ACT government had largely ignored recommendations despite research showing nursery and parenting programs in jails reduced reoffending.
"More is required from policymakers to recognise children's needs," it said.
"Children whose parent(s) are in prison require support and assistance to enable them to maintain connections with their parent and to reduce the (often negative) outcomes of parental incarceration."
Young people interviewed for the 2013 "Children of prisoners" report urged the government to provide age-appropriate activities at visits, more flexible visiting times, counselling andeducational support.
Researchers from ANU, the government's Justice Health Services and the Institute of Child Protection Studies conducting the "Slipping through the cracks" review said they received reports that public transport to the jail did not coincide enough with visiting times, were indirect and hard to understand.
Estimating that 705 Canberra children had a parent in jail, researchers heard visits had been reduced, and that a "protective" viewpoint was preventing children from connecting with their incarcerated parents.
The Justice and Community Safety Directorate said it was not approached for a formal response and that the review misrepresented ACT Corrective Services' work.
A spokeswoman said it had the most generous visits schedule for detainees in Australia, and that timetables for Action bus routes were designed around jail visiting times.
The researchers interviewed an jail offender services and programs employee, child protection researchers, advocates and ACT Human Rights Commission leaders.
They heard that children did not receive enough information about their parents in prison despite a recommendation in the 2013 report.
"Stakeholders suggested that facts relating to parents' cases could be relayed at various points throughout the process, and that the visiting centre at the Alexander Maconochie Centre provided a good opportunity to convey this information," it said.
The number of children in a homework visits program had dwindled, and it was suggested to researchers that ACTCS let it eventually lapse.
A "policy-based apathy" and a lack of staff were among other barriers to visits for children.
"It was mentioned that staff considered children a tool for incarcerated people to obtain sentence reductions, rather than an involved party in the incarceration," the review said.
"It was also stated that staff were not accommodating at visits. For example, according to some stakeholders, if a child requires the bathroom, the visit is terminated."
ACTCS planned to reinstate homework visits and had run programs equipping detainees with better parenting skills, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate said.
Its spokeswoman said it had held family days working with charity Shine for Kids, allowed additional visits for parents of young children, and supported new parents by providing dedicated breastfeeding space.
"ACTCS continues to allow families to have extended visits, including the use of the barbecues in the visits area," it said.
The agency's newly-created women's services coordinator role will be responsible for improving relationships between detainees and their children.
The Slipping through the cracks report urged the government to improve timetables for the bus to the jail, employ a liaison officer to advocate for children, and build a family visiting room.