Parents in prison

The Monash Criminal Justice Research Consortium will lead new research into caring for the children of prisoners.

The Monash Criminal Justice Research Consortium will lead new research into caring for the children of prisoners.

The estimated 38,000 Australian children with a parent in prison will benefit from the country's first research dedicated to planning for their care.

The research, led by members of the Monash Criminal Justice Research Consortium (CJRC), will provide Australia's first recommendations for the care of children when a parent is sent to jail.

CJRC researcher Dr Catherine Flynn, said current policies and processes did not adequately address the needs of children, a situation made worse by a recent rise in the number of women being imprisoned.

She said that in most cases the care of children was left to ad hoc and informal arrangements.

"In lots of jurisdictions the system has stepped back from these kids and they have fallen through the cracks because they are nobody's client," Dr Flynn said.

"I've heard stories of solicitors left holding babies, and kids returning home from school to an empty house, not knowing what has happened to mum.

"Too often when women are arrested they don't do anything because they think it will be ok, and then they end up in prison, and nothing is in place so the kids are left at home alone, or are bundled off to unstable homes."

The ARC Linkage funded research has the support of key statutory bodies in NSW and Victoria, including the Department of Human Services, Department of Justice, Prison Fellowship Australia, the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner, VACRO and SHINE for Kids.

Dr Flynn, whose previous research in the area gave rise to the project, said the involvement of the leading statutory bodies was indication of a desire to better understand how children were affected by the criminal justice system and to improve policy and practice.

The three year project will include interviews with parents and children directly affected by imprisonment.

The CJRC brings together Monash researchers from across the University, including Associate Professor Chris Trotter and Dr Kay McAuley from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and health Sciences, criminal justice experts Associate Professor David Baker and Dr Anna Eriksson, Dr Bronwyn Naylor from the Faculty of Law and Professor Paul Collier from the Faculty of Business and Economics.