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Parents as prisoners : maintaining the parent-child relationship

Abstract

Children of parents who are or have been in prison often endure considerable disruption in their care, receive negligible material support and experience difficulty maintaining family ties. They are a uniquely vulnerable group of children, who may come into contact with child protection and welfare agencies and become the subject of child protection proceedings in children's courts. The children present particular challenges to legal and welfare decision makers in relation to maintaining relationships between the children and their parents. Little is known about this group of children, about the impact on them of their parents' offending and imprisonment and the ways, if any, that child welfare services and children's courts respond to their distinctive circumstances. This report describes the study undertaken in the Melbourne Children's Court from June to December 2006, that set out to identify the extent to which children involved in child protection proceedings had parents who were currently or previously in prison, or were awaiting sentencing. It sought also to examine the impact of parental imprisonment on these children, to examine their care histories to discover what factors impact on their stability of care, and to propose ways the court and welfare systems should respond to these children's special circumstances. There were 156 children identified by magistrates as meeting these criteria during the study period. Data was gathered about the child protection proceedings, parental involvement with the criminal justice system, the child's age and family composition, care arrangements, information about their health and education, and about any support services and interventions involved with the child and family. What emerged as a consequence of the study was that there was no co-ordinated response by the child protection and justice systems to managing these children's situations, no formal case-planning process that brought together the key stakeholders in decisions about, for example, children and their care.

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