Contact experiences and needs of children of prisoners before and during COVID-19: Findings from an Australian survey

Dr Catherine Flynn1, Professor Lorana Bartels2, Professor  Susan  Dennison3, Dr Helen  Taylor2, Dr Susy  Harrigan1

1Monash University, Caulfield East, Australia
2Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
3Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Most of the research examining children visiting a parent in prison indicates that visits have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing, their connection to the imprisoned parent, and the parent themselves.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a significant change to prison visits worldwide, with limits or bans on face-to-face contact. This has created considerable challenges for families, as well as some opportunities. Understanding the subsequent experiences and needs of children however, remains limited. This paper presents the findings of a survey of 84 carers of 184 children across Australia, investigating children’s experiences of contact with their imprisoned parent both before and during COVID-19 restrictions. While most carers reported maintaining contact during restrictions, a range of barriers was noted: reduced availability; the effect of prison-based issues, including lockdowns; and the suitability of video/telephone visits for young children. Some described the specific benefits of videoconferencing, including reduced travel time and cost, and not needing to take children into a prison environment.  Despite this, respondents typically described the negative impact of restrictions, and notably the lack of physical contact, on children’s emotional wellbeing. Our findings suggest that, as uncertainty becomes the new normal, with a reliance on video-technology to facilitate contact,  there is a clear need to understand both the short- and longer-term implications of this for children and families. In the short term, for video visiting to be successful, it should be complementary to in-person visits, tailored to the needs of children, with support offered to families.


Catherine Flynn is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University. Her core areas of scholarship include the intersection of criminal justice and social work – with a particular focus on the impact of parental imprisonment on children and the needs of parents in prison, international collaborations/international social work, and social work research.


Dec 09 2021