The cost of caring: uncovering the costs for grandparents raising grandchildren with incarcerated parents

Dr Catherine Flynn1, Ms Tess Bartlett1
1Monash University Department Of Social Work, Caulfield East, Australia

In 2017, Corrections Victoria reported the daily cost of keeping a person imprisoned was $304.12. This individual approach to ‘cost’ ignores that around 50% of those in prison are parents of dependent children, and disregards the hidden costs incurred by these children’s carers. While the negative emotional, practical and social impacts of parental imprisonment on children are well established, there has been little attention paid to the experiences of those who care for them. These are typically informal carers, extended family and, most often, grandparents. This paper draws on data from an ARC funded study examining care planning for children whose primary carers were imprisoned in Victoria and New South Wales, and focuses specifically on grandparent carers and the costs associated with raising these children. To do so, qualitative data from interviews with 20 grandparent carers, along with quantitative data from 50 imprisoned parents, whose children were cared for by grandparents, are presented. Findings indicate around one-quarter of all children were placed with their grandparents. These placements commonly occurred at the point of parental arrest or imprisonment, were unplanned and in response to a crisis. Whilst findings from grandparent carers reflect some known challenges, including the cost of visiting and provision of financial support to incarcerated parents, data revealed new costs of caring such as legal fees, lost wages, changes to retirement plans, superannuation, and costs associated with healthcare. Targeted follow-up services are needed for carers to ensure that the unanticipated consequences of current punitive responses are minimised.


Catherine Flynn is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University. Her core area of research is the intersection of criminal justice and social work; she also has a keen interest in the unintended consequences of criminal justice policy and practices, with a focus on children and families.


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