“There was no-one else”: Reflections of family members caring for children of incarcerated parents

C. Flynn1*, C. Trotter1

1 Monash University – Department of Social Work, catherine.flynn@monash.edu

It is clear that numbers of parents being imprisoned in Australia are increasing, as are the number of children affected. Yet this group remains hidden, and relatively few children and families, including carers, appear to access relevant support. Limited data have been collected from statutory bodies about this group of children, and responses tend to be ad hoc and uncoordinated.

In order to examine current responses to children whose primary carers are arrested and imprisoned in Victoria and New South Wales, this multi-method study gathered primary data from 151 imprisoned primary carers, 27 carers, five children, along with 124 professional stakeholders.

This presentation focuses specifically on the views of children’s carers – outlining their experiences of contact with the police, courts and the prison system.  Carers assume care of children at all three points leading up to the parent entering prison – arrest, sentencing and imprisonment – although it is more typical for this to occur at arrest and imprisonment; in the majority of instances this is unplanned and in response to a crisis.

Findings further indicate that most children are cared for informally by extended family. These carers, however, are unsupported and often unable to sustain placements, resulting in considerable instability for children.  Targeted follow-up services for children and carers are needed.

A more just application of adult justice requires that we acknowledge and respond to the unseen recipients of correctional and prison practices, including dependent children of prisoners, and their carers.  Taking a wider view will ensure mitigation of the unanticipated consequences of current punitive responses.


Dr Catherine Flynn is a senior lecturer in the Social Work Department at Monash University.  Her core interest is in the intersection of social work and criminal justice, notably the unintended consequences of the criminal justice system.  As such her research focuses on prisoners and their children.

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