The families of prisoners do not appear to be the core business of any government department and are often overlooked in developing and implementing new social policy or in changes to existing social policy and programs (FaCS, 2003:45).
The consequences for children result from a disturbance to normal emotional and psychological development and may include low self-esteem, anxiety, low motivation to achieve, poor conscience development, poor social adjustment and peer relations, depression, juvenile delinquency or drug abuse. • (VACRO, 2000: 57-61; State of Oregon, 2002:1) • Incarceration of a parent significantly increases the likelihood of future incarceration of a child. • (FaCS, 2003:5) • There is insufficient data about children of prisoners because the site of the information (Corrections, Justice systems) is not primarily concerned with the families of prisoners. Any adverse effects on those related to offenders are not rationally considered part of the justice system and fall into the category of ‘unintended consequences’ • (Hagan and Dinovitzer, 1999)
While overall numbers of women in prison remain comparatively small (7%), over the decade from 1993 to 2003 the representation of women in the prison population has increased at a greater rate than that of men (ABS, January 2005). This means an increase in numbers of children with a mother in prison and consequent disruption to the primary care of larger numbers of children over the decade. • Family support for an offender upon release is linked to improved levels of employment, ability to avoid substance abuse and reduced involvement in criminal activities • (Pearson and Davis, 2003)
Other family members benefit from the support, as parents or carers Prisoners may benefit, promoting family contact, maintaining relationship & communication Professionals engaged with the families benefit through specialised support and professional development Longer term community benefit Benefits
Family networks “can promote their success after release and deter future criminal behaviour” (Pearson,Davis: Family Court Review, 2003:1)
Service data • Between March 2005 and November 2005: • Offered intensive support to 11 families through 140 counselling sessions. • These families include 30 children aged between 2 and 15 years. • 106 sessions were provided for children and their carers in a range of settings. • 34 sessions were provided to 7 family members in prison. • 20 additional families were offered advice or referral.
As soon as they know (the worker) is coming over they sit and wait at the gate for him. The best thing is that he tells them that he sees a lot of other kids in the same situation and to them it was like, ‘Oh, wow. There are other people out there who are going through this’. He brings over things for them to do. They’ve been doing painting, drawings and clay … They talk while they’re doing it. (the worker) has been giving me strategies to use with the kids. If they ask me a question about what’s happened with Dad and where is he, I’ve been able to explain it a lot easier … because I’ve been watching what he says to them. It’s made me more comfortable in talking to them instead of trying to hide it from them. (Mother)
It helps us cope with the day to day… - if you’ve got your home and your family sorted out, you can cope with anything else. It really has saved our family – my daughter was in a terrible state. …the fact that it’s family counselling, so he talks to her, he talks to me, and he’s seeing my ex-husband as well. No one else has that access to the full picture. (Mother)
I’m making it a goal of mine to see as many of the parents in prison as possible. … [M]y approach to family systems means including the entire family system – especially someone as important as a mother or father. It’s so important to the well-being of the child to include that person. It shows the child that - unlike society or kids at school or whatever – that I won’t judge their parent, won’t look differently upon them. I’ll go and visit them. (CSS).
Schools play a very important role in kids’ lives. … They get them eight hours a day and I see them one hour a week. Excluding the parents, the teachers and co-ordinators have the best insight into the kids personality and behaviour. So getting the carer, the teacher, the co-ordinator, the student – all in the room listening to each other, that in itself opens up a lot of eyes. The teacher may say something that the Mum or Dad hasn’t heard before. Or the kid may not know that the co-ordinator knows about their parent. … I think a lot of growth happens from that so now I really push for it. (CSS)
They were having a bit of trouble at school and (the worker) said, “Maybe you should talk to their teachers. It may be a good idea if I talk to their teachers as well, but you’d need to let them know first”. I was nervous but I knew it had to happen for the kids – but the teachers already knew! The kids had already spoken to them! It was a step for me to be able to admit that but I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t spoken to (the worker) about it. (Mother)
(The worker) met with the mother of the child and I believe it was quite helpful. He came back here afterwards and caught up with me and left me quite a lot of literature, pamphlets and things. I’ve since distributed them to our student welfare network group, because they would probably be dealing with some of these issues. … I think there’s certainly a role for direct service but also an educative role for student welfare coordinators would be really useful because it mightn’t be something you come across all the time but we do come across it reasonably frequently. (Student counsellor)
improvement in a child’s demeanour building or maintaining emotional links with the parent in prison facilitating clearer communication between family members reducing conflict exploring complex feelings once rapport is established facilitating clearer communication with schools. Evaluation
Dennison, Foley and Stewart propose the concept of ‘Multisystemic Therapy’ (MST) which occurs in the home or familiar environment and aims to combine “problem-focused therapies into an inclusive framework that addresses a broader range of factors across the individual’s environment” (2005:19) such as improving caregiver practices and developing the support network. ‘Understanding Experiences and Needs of Families of Prisoners’ Multi-Systemic Therapy
Did not have complex or high needs Were not primarily repeat offenders Did not have histories of intergenerational offending Sentence lengths were above the median aggregate CSS contacted an atypical group of prisoners
permits more efficient use of time and travel to cover a geographic region • provides a site for initial contact with families as well as for follow-up individual sessions with interested local families and children • provides a ready made link to a network of services for the offender upon release • maximises opportunities for networking and information sharing, addressing isolation and lack of information • provides opportunities for networking, service integration and development of peer relationships involving families and children living within a region • can be tailored to operate differently according to the needs of a particular client group or cultural community. This is consistent with a commitment to assisting families with complex needs.
The Neighbourhood Justice Centre will incorporate a multi-jurisdictional court and offer a range of services to benefit victims, offenders, civil litigants and the local community. Some of these services will be located on-site. This initiative is a new approach to addressing issues of crime and disadvantage in communities and will provide a coordinated approach and response to the range of criminal and civil issues that are being experienced locally. Details of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre are available on the website of the Department of Justice at: www.justice.vic.gov.au/neighbourhoodjustice Neighbourhood Justice Centre
Facilitates informal contact with families as well as potential for follow-up sessions with interested local families and children Has the added advantage of establishing a presence within local community support networks Proximity to a number of schools in an area of high need allows for the possibility of school visits and professional development of teachers or student welfare workers The possibility of running after-school groups could also eventually be considered. This is also consistent with a gradual connection with families and cultural communities with complex needs Locating the CSS in a Centre such as this:
Morning visits could be held at HM Prison Barwon and also Marngoneet, a new 300 bed Program Prison. Individual counselling sessions could be held at schools in the Geelong region during the day, for children already in contact with the service. An after-school ‘drop in’ clinic can be run at a local community facility, such as a health centre. One worker might conduct individual sessions while a second worker organised group activities for children, allowing the parents and carers the opportunity to meet and talk or make contact with other local services. Regional Centres
I’m planning to write to the Minister about this: This service needs to be there. … This is so important - these kids are victims. They are the forgotten people. The public doesn’t see it that way. I’ve got friends and family all involved and we are all keen to do a bit of lobbying – the more letters the better. Nothing happens unless someone does something. I just feel like they are the forgotten victims. It’s had a huge impact having their father removed from their lives. I know their father’s done the wrong thing but there needs to be more access and more support or the kids really suffer. (Mother) Community awareness
Our student welfare people were very interested to get the literature and I’ve made them aware of the website. The welfare coordinators are an important source in a school. It mightn’t be commonly known that a child’s parent may be in prison, but if it is, it’s obviously going to have a lot of impact on the family and even if they can be a bit educated about how it might affect the child at school and things like that, that’s a useful thing. The pamphlets and booklets were very good. (Social Worker) Professional Development
The intention of the project is to: Provide early intervention for at risk children of prisoners and their families Work together with local agencies in 10 LGA regions, Develop a resource kit for schools and service providers Integrate existing resources to provide a self-sustaining program of information, support and assistance A related long-term outcome is to raise community awareness about the impact of imprisonment on children. Connecting Communities: Families of Offenders Resource Kit
I approached a service locally who said, ‘We can’t help you because you’re not a victim of crime and so you don’t fall under our criteria’. … We went to a private psychologist, which really didn’t help because she didn’t have any background in the prison system. We went to a doctor and she asked if there was a support group. That was when I called VACRO and made contact with the CSS. (Mother) Contact with Government
There definitely is an overlap and it’s really important that we engage with any service that’s going to be picking up or accessing anyone in our population of schools. Talking from a psychologist’s point of view, there’s only so much that we can do in terms of supporting families. Our service tends to be more short-term and we need to really know what specialised services are out there that are credible and to be able to link families in so that we can still provide school based support but that we feel confident that the family’s able to access other support outside. … It would be great if the Education Department could link in somehow. (Psychologist)