Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

The Development of a Parenting Program for Incarcerated Mothers in Australia: A Review of Prison-Based Parenting Programs

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

The Development of a Parenting Program for Incarcerated Mothers in Australia: A Review of Prison-Based Parenting Programs

Article excerpt


As the imprisoned population increases worldwide there is a growing concern for children who have incarcerated parents. The potential effects of parental incarceration and the cyclical nature of intergenerational crime and delinquency is a current public health issue requiring immediate attention. Early experiences of parental incarceration may potentially infl uence the societal choices made by a child or young adult increasing their likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior (National Crime Prevention, 1999). Children who have an incarcerated parent are believed to be at higher risk of enduring inadequate parenting, where mental, physical, emotional and fi nancial hardship may be experienced (Codd, 2007; Dowling & Gardner, 2005). It is known that children who have an incarcerated parent are at risk of developing poor health outcomes (Department of Children, Schools and Families [DCSF] & Ministry of Justice [MOJ], 2007). Despite this it is an ongoing challenge for community health services to achieve successful engagement of families affected by parental incarceration (DCSF & MOJ, 2007). It is possible that the promotion of healthy child-parent relationships and responsive parenting through the provision of a parenting program for incarcerated parents may act in the prevention of intergenerational incarceration and improve health outcomes for affected children. This paper examines the existing literature relating to the evaluation of parenting programs for incarcerated parents and provides an outline of the literature reviewed to inform the development of a Mothering at a Distance program that aims to provide parenting education and support to incarcerated mothers in New South Wales, Australia.


A literature search using CINAHL, PsycINFO, OvidMEDLINE and Maternity and Infant Care databases was completed using combinations of the following terms; parents, mothers, fathers, children, prisons, prisoners, correctional facilities, parenting programs, parenting education and parental incarceration. An internet search using Google search engine was also conducted to identify reports and other literature related to parenting education within the correctional system, and incarcerated parents and their children. The search was limited to publications written in English. However no limitation was placed on the publication date of the paper.

Ninety-fi ve papers relating to the effects of parental incarceration and/or prison-based parenting education programs were identifi ed which were either research fi ndings, descriptions of practice or opinion pieces dating between 1976 and 2009. A selection of the literature has been used in this paper to provide a background to parenting programs for prisoners. There were a large number of publications from government and non-government organizations and literature from the justice and social science areas. Where appropriate these sources of information have also been included. The focus of this paper is on parenting programs for prisoners. A review has therefore been provided of the eleven evaluation-based studies of parenting programs for prisoners that were identifi ed in the literature search.


In New South Wales (NSW) Australia, it is estimated that approximately 60,122 children under the age of 16 years have experienced parental incarceration at some point, representing 4.3% of all children and 20.1% of all Indigenous children (Quilty, Levy, Howard, Barratt & Butler, 2004). A survey conducted in 2009 of 994 male (N = 795) and female (N = 199) prisoners in NSW reported that almost half (45%, N = 443) had at least one child aged less than 16 years, and 27% (N = 267) reported having at least one directly dependent child at the time of their incarceration (Indig et al., 2010). Whilst international comparisons of the number of children with an incarcerated parent are diffi cult to make due to differences in reporting protocols, it has been estimated that in 2007 there were 1,706,600 children with a parent in prison in the United States of America (USA; Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). …

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