Experts are calling for children of prisoners to be acknowledged in the criminal justice process following research into the experiences of children in Canberra with an incarcerated parent.
Estimates put the number of children in the ACT with a parent in prison at over 400, but as prison populations swell, the "invisible group" of children grows with it.
"In the last decade the number of prisoners has increased by 31per cent, the number of women going into prison has increased over the last decade by 48 per cent," researcher Vicky Saunders of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University said.
She presented her study's findings on Wednesday to groups engaged with children and young people in Canberra, and next week will meet with the Children's Commissioner to discuss having somebody who can advocate for children when their parent is arrested.
"[The children] are the forgotten victims of crime fundamentally; they're last in the pecking order," she said.
"Victims of crime get support, it's written into our legislation, but these children through no fault of their own are associated with the criminal justice system and experience the stigma and it reduces their social inclusion."
Through her research, in which she spoke in depth to 12 children of prisoners about their experiences, Ms Saunders found that even with myriad practical and financial problems caused by the incarceration of a parent, children will avoid telling people they have a parent in prison.
They found they were stigmatised when they told people a parent was in jail in order to ask for help, particularly at school.
"They're socially excluded through no fault of their own and … they should be able to just put their hands up and say 'Look, we need a bit of support.' "
Ms Saunders did her needs analysis research for SHINE for Kids, a not-for-profit organisation that started working with the children of prisoners at the Alexander Maconochie Centre in 2011, which would also like to see a community education program.
"If we're talking about early intervention and prevention and we're thinking about the idea of intergenerational offending, then why are we not beginning right at the start with caring for these small children before problems do begin, and that's about community education," Ms Saunders said.