New research finds children are overlooked when their parents are incarcerated.
Children whose parents are incarcerated lack basic support and face social, emotional and financial dislocation, new research from the Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) has found.
Children of Prisoners: Exploring the needs of children and young people who have a parent incarcerated in the Australian Capital Territory was released on Thursday at the launch of program supporting children who have a parent in prison at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) in Canberra.
In the first study of its kind researchers spoke with children and young people between the ages of six and 18, as well as parents and carers in order to explore their experiences of parental incarceration and to deepen understanding about their needs.
“We found that these children and young people experience a range of challenges, including shame and stigma, increased caring responsibilities, difficulties with family relationships and education, emotional distress, financial disadvantage, challenges in accessing supports, instability and sometimes homelessness,” said Project Manager and Research Fellow at ICPS, Vicky Saunders.
“Children and young people often struggle in isolation to cope with these issues, and are often not included in or made aware of decisions made about their incarcerated parents. They said they want services that understand their needs and do not make them feel ashamed or stigmatised for having a parent in prison.”
Children were brave and frank, telling researchers that they felt no one recognised their situation or gave them support. Not only did they feel ignored by the judicial system – police, courts and prisons – but that even schools, agencies and support services did not consider their needs. Many are shamed or bullied at school. Others struggle to pay bills when the breadwinner is no longer around to provide an income. Children in the study described how they were at risk of experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and drug use.
The report recommends authorities provide a more practical and emotional support for families, including a proactive involvement of schools. Until the launch of SHINE for Kids there has been no service or program located in the ACT that works specifically with children and young people affected by parental imprisonment.
The paper informs the project “Building Resilience in a uniquely vulnerable group: children of prisoners” that was funded by ACT Health Promotion Grants Program. SHINE for Kids commissioned the ICPS, Australian Catholic University, to undertake this research.
SHINE for Kids provides advocacy and early intervention support to those children and families to stem the negative effects of parental imprisonment.
Chief Executive Officer of SHINE for Kids, Ms Gloria Larman said the research would assist SHINE for Kids design suitable services to support children and families.
“SHINE for Kids locates a Child and Family Worker at the AMC in Canberra, who supports children and young people visiting an incarcerated parent to have a positive experience,” said Ms Larman.