Prisoners who are pregnant or who are the primary carers of young children may apply for the Mothers and Children Program.
The program aims to encourage and foster the mother-child relationship while a mother is in prison, especially where babies and young children are involved.
The program allows young children to live in custody with their mother and provides pregnant prisoners with ante- and post-natal health services. The program is available in Victoria’s two women’s prisons, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) and Tarrengower Prison.
Other short-term programs are also available for mothers to spend time with their children, both within and outside the prisons.
Mothers and Children Program eligibility
Prisoners can apply for the Mothers and Children Program if they are remanded or sentenced to a term of imprisonment at either the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre or Tarrengower Prison.
To be eligible, a prisoner must be:
- a mother who was the primary carer of a pre-school child before entering prison, or
- a pregnant woman who is due to give birth while in prison.
The child must be under school age to live in the prison.
Application process for the the Mothers and Children Program
- The prisoner completes an application form and gives it to the mothers and children support worker
- The prisoner attends an interview with the mothers and children support worker, who then prepares a report that includes:
- the reasons for the prisoner's application
- the prisoner's consent for information to be exchanged with the Department of Human Services and Justice Health
- the name of an external carer to provide support for the prisoner's child outside of the prison
- The application is considered by the Mothers and Children Steering Committee, which provides the general manager of the prison with a recommendation
- The general manager of the prison forwards the application and makes a recommendation to the Deputy Commissioner, Operations, who makes the final decision
- Prison management will advise the prisoner of the Deputy Commissioner’s decision. If the application is approved, arrangements are made for the prisoner's child to be brought to the prison in which the prisoner resides
- If the application is not approved the prisoner is given reasons for the decision and provided with appropriate counselling. If the prisoner does not accept the decision she may choose to lodge a complaint
How the application is assessed
The Mothers and Children Steering Committee considers the application and provides the general manager of the women’s prisons region with a recommendation. This recommendation is provided to the Deputy Commissioner, Operations, who makes the final decision.
The primary concern is always what is best for the child and the good order, security and management of the prison. The Deputy Commissioner also considers such factors as:
- whether the offender was the primary carer of the child before imprisonment
- the prisoner’s behaviour in prison and program participation
- the reason for the request
- the nature of the offences
- the availability of suitable alternative accommodation for the child
- previous contact with the Department of Human Services
- whether the prison can provide suitable accommodation
How long the assessment takes
Assessment of an application occurs at the earliest opportunity. Priority is given to applications made by prisoners in the late stages of pregnancy or who are breast-feeding their babies at the time of their reception into prison.
In some circumstances there will be unavoidable delays, depending on the complexity of the application.
Accommodation in prison
Mothers who have their child living with them in prison are housed in accommodation that meets acceptable community standards for the safe, and secure housing of children and adequately meets the nutritional, developmental and health needs of the child. Dedicated Mothers and Children Units are available at both the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and Tarrengower Prison.
Cell accommodation is not appropriate for accommodating a mother and child. As a result some women who reside in particular accommodation units will not be able to have their children reside with them.
The Mothers and Children Program has a full-time support worker who is responsible for the administration of the program, including regular monitoring of the safety and wellbeing of all children in the program.
The mothers and children program support worker oversees the delivery of a number of programs to assist prisoners to improve their parenting skills or enhance their confidence as parents. These programs include early childhood health and development. A maternal child health nurse visits both prisons regularly to assist with the nutritional and health requirements of babies and young children.
Alternative, external caregivers
Alternative caregivers are required to provide prisoners with parenting support. Internal care-givers provide care for children to allow prisoners to attend education, work and recreation programs, receive medical treatment or attend court. External caregivers provide support when prisoners are unable to care for their child, when the child is visiting friends or relatives or for when the child must be removed from the prison for their health or safety.
Withdrawal from the program
The Deputy Commissioner can withdraw approval for participation in the Mothers and Children Program at any time. This is most likely to occur if an offender is:
- involved in the commission of a serious prison offence
- moved to a hospital, or
- transferred to a protection or management unit, which is not considered suitable for accommodating a child.
Withdrawal from the program can also occur if prison management believe the good order security or management of the prison is compromised or it is no longer in the child’s best interests.
Rights and responsibilities
Under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, families are entitled to be protected by society and the State of Victoria, and any limitations to these rights must be justified. The most important consideration in protecting family rights is “what is in the best interests of the child?” In deciding what is in the child’s best interests, Corrections Victoria will then have regard to the factors described previously and any other matter relevant to the particular circumstances of the mother and child.
The above information is also available in the Mothers and Children Program brochure.
The Mothers and Children Progam Commissioner's Requirement (CR 3.4.1) provides further information about this program.
A literature review of Prison-based mothers and children programs has been conducted to better inform future program development of mothers and children programs in the Victorian prison system.
Other short-term programs
Other programs that allow mothers to spend time with their children include:
- a contact visit program of at least one 60-minute visit per week
- a child access program that operates at DPFC every Sunday afternoon
- Fun With Mum Program at DPFC on alternate Sundays
- at DPFC on Saturdays and alternate Sundays is the Shine for Kids Program
- special family visit days throughout the year
- a residential family visits program that operates at Tarrengower Prison on weekends
- a school holiday program at Tarrengower Prison
- a custodial community permit program that allows prisoners to leave the prison for a time to visit with their child
- Video Visits Program that allows prisoners to have video conference visits with their child in addition to other visits