“Children with a parent in prison are six times more likely than their peers to end up in prison as adults. They are often labelled the ‘forgotten victims of crime’, and we believe it is critical to offer tailored support to this unique cohort” – Glen Fairweather, CEO, Prison Fellowship Australia.
Prison Fellowship Australia CEO, Glen Fairweather along with Angel Tree recipients Holly Nicholls and Clarisa Allen recently gave evidence to the Inquiry into Children Affected by Parental Incarceration in Victoria.
The inquiry, chaired by Fiona Pattern MP, looked at the social, emotional, and health impacts on children when a parent is imprisoned, and what infrastructure currently exists in Victoria to support these children.
The report outlines 29 recommendations, including establishing a dedicated branch within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing to respond to children and families of those affected by parental incarceration.
As Ms Patten states, children affected by parental incarceration, “serve a sentence alongside their parent, an experience which may affect them negatively for their whole lives. This has to stop and we have to help.”
The report recommended that Victoria Police “develop and improve protocols to incorporate child-aware procedures and practice at the point of and in the aftermath of arrest.”1
For Clarisa, the trauma of her father’s arrest will stay with her for life. As she explains, “I still remember the day that they came and they took him. They barged through the door and they came in running around and pushing us around. It was quite scary. I remember them smashing my guitar. Funnily enough, every time I smell wood now I think of my guitar getting smashed.”
Holly had a similar experience – “We had our front door kicked off; anyone could have just walked into our house. We were just little kids and we got caught up in it, and I am still paying for it now.”
Recommendation 20 of the report states that “child-friendly visiting facilities and practices should be implemented in all prisons throughout Victoria.”2 For many children, visiting their parent in prison can be “unfriendly, hostile or traumatising.”3 Clarisa often experienced this when she visited her father in prison, “I remember how they would pat me down and they put a wand on me. I remember being so scared sometimes of the prison guards because they were just so scary looking and really tough looking—just really stern.”
During their evidence, Clarisa and Holly both emphasised the positive impact that Prison Fellowship has on their lives. As Clarisa says, “Please keep Prison Fellowship. They were the only initiative that helped families. If Prison Fellowship could be around forever and keep making the impact that they are making, because they impacted my life and I would not be who I am today, honestly, if it was not for the love that I received via them.”
Likewise, Holly says, “I am now practising as a social worker, and I do not think I have ever met anyone that has the skill base and compassion that the Prison Fellowship volunteers have. No one can match it; it is crazy. We need to make sure that they stay up and running and keep extending and extending to help kids like us because they are changing lives. We need them.”
1 Parliament of Victoria, Legislative Council, ‘Inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration’, (Parliament of Victoria, 2022), p. xxvi
2 Parliament of Victoria, ‘Inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration, p. xxxii
3 Parliament of Victoria, ‘Inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration, p. xxxi