In September last year, I wrote a letter to Minister Hutchins outlining the desperate need to collect data on children with parents in custody.
These children need individualised wrap-around supports, yet in Victoria, we keep no record of who these children are. By not collecting data on these children we only render them more invisible.
How can we be held accountable for an issue we can’t see? We must do better!
Hopefully, we can see these issues addressed in the upcoming Inquiry into Children of Imprisoned Parents.
14th September 2021
Dear Minister Hutchins,
I am writing regarding the data collection of children with parents in the criminal justice system.
It is estimated that around 77,000 young people in Australia currently have parents who are in prison. These children are up to 6 times more likely to end up in prison themselves. Moreover, children who have parents in custody have a lower life expectancy, are less likely to complete their education and are less likely to attain long-term employment.
Despite the need for family support in this area, there is a massive data gap in Victoria. There is currently no one in Victoria responsible for keeping data regarding the number of children who have parents in custody, despite this data being easy to collect. There is also no Minister accountable in Victoria for children with relatives in custody.
Presently, the community is relying on the non-profit sector to fill this gap. There is significant demand for family support in this area, yet without this data, support cannot be targeted.
These children are the invisible victims of crime. They should not be punished for the crimes of their parent.
I urge you to collect data on the number of children in Victoria with parents in custody and provide targeted support for these families. By failing to do so thus far, we have only rendered them more invisible.
I would also encourage you to meet with the organisation SHINE for Kids, a non-profit that supports children and young people who have relatives in the criminal justice system. I consider their early intervention work critical.
RESPONSE RECEIVED 23 FEB 2022 from Minister Hutchins
Dear Mr Barton
Thank you for your correspondence raising concerns about data collection relating to children with parents in the criminal justice system.
The Victorian Government is committed to ensuring a safe community by preventing crime, intervening early when crime occurs and, where possible, diverting people who commit minor offences and do not pose a risk to community safety away from prison. Through crime prevention, we can reduce the number of people in custody and subsequent impact on their children and families.
The Crime Prevention Strategy, released in June this year, is a whole of government and community approach to supporting Victorian communities. The Strategy provides an opportunity to empower and invest in communities that can be overrepresented in the justice system, including children with parents in custody. Our Crime Prevention Innovation Fund grants of up to $300,000 encourage collaborations between not-for-profit organisations, councils, and research bodies to deliver and evaluate innovative crime prevention and community safety initiatives that address the causes of offending and build resilience and community cohesion More information about these funding opportunities can be found on the website at: www.crimeprevention.vic.gov.au/buildingsafercommunities.
We are also working to strengthen the ways that the justice and social service systems work together to help break the cycle of offending. This will support Victorians to maintain prosocial lives, including through housing, education, and employment support and by ensuring that services to address the underlying causes of offending are holistic, accessible, and effective.
Maintaining and strengthening family engagement or taking steps towards family reunification is a fundamental component of effective rehabilitation and reintegration. Strong family relationships have been shown to improve mental health, education, and employment outcomes, as well as reduce family violence. People in prison with established social connections are also more likely to engage in positive behaviours after their release. Supported by the growing international body of research on the importance of family engagement programs and services, the Victorian corrections system offers a suite of programs that are responsive to the needs and circumstances of people in prison, including those on remand and serving short sentences.
These programs support improvements in parenting skills and strengthening and reunification of family relationships, providing better rehabilitation and reintegration outcomes for people in prison as well as their children.
There are several family engagement and parenting programs delivered by community providers, including SHINE for Kids’ Prison In-Visits Program and Supported Children’s Transport Program. The Prison In-Visits Program provides purposeful, positive, engaging diversionary activities for children visiting a parent in prison. The Transport Program assists children who would otherwise be unable to visit their parent in custody due to transportation or related issues.
I note your concerns regarding data collection about the number of children who have parents in custody. Corrections Victoria maintains individual records relating to the parenting responsibilities of people subject to custodial and community orders. This information is used to provide targeted support and to connect people with programs mentioned above, including those operated by SHINE for Kids
I additionally note the recent agreement of the Legislative Council to establish an inquiry into children of imprisoned parents. I look forward to the outcomes of this inquiry and will carefully consider the report of the committee.
Thank you for taking the time to raise these matters with me. I trust this information is of assistance.