Corrections Victoria acknowledges that many women prisoners provide the primary care of their children. The Living with Mum (LWM) Program aims to assist women prisoners (where practicable) who are primary caregivers of young children to maintain their bond and attachment while incarcerated.
The LWM Program encourages the mother-child relationship, by allowing young children to live with their mother in custody and provides pregnant prisoners with ante- and post-natal health services.
Children are deemed as “residents” of the LWM Program, which ensures that the best interest of the child is maintained through nutritional, developmental and health needs and where the management, good order and security of the prison is upheld.
Living with Mum Program eligibility
Prisoners can apply for the LWM Program if they are remanded or sentenced to a term of imprisonment at either DPFC or Tarrengower Prison. The child must be under school age to live in the prison.
To be eligible, a prisoner must be:
- expects a custodial sentence or is received into prison custody who can demonstrate that they were the primary carer of their infant or pre-school child prior to their imprisonment.
- is pregnant and is due to give birth while in prison.
Application process for the Living with Mum Program
- In prison: The applicant (woman) completes the LWM Progam application form and submits it to the Parenting Support Worker at the prison.
- In the community: If this is a pre-sentence application, the legal representative submits the application on behalf of the applicant.
Once the application is received, the Parenting Support Worker interviews the applicant and/or talks to the legal representative (where required) prior to the application being submitted for approval.
The interview (phone or in person) with the Parenting Support Worker will review:
- the reason for the application to the LWM Program
- the applicant’s family history
- seek and gain written consent for information to be exchanged with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH), Child Protection background check and Justice Health (the agency that oversees applicant’s health care while in custody).
Once the application report and supporting documents are prepared, it is submitted to the LWM Operational Steering Committee for consideration. The outcome of their decision provides the recommendation to the Deputy Commissioner, Custodial Operations, Corrections Victoria, who has the delegated ability from the Secretary to make the final decision.
The Deputy Commissioner advises the applicant and prison General Manager of their decision in writing.
If the application is approved, arrangements are made for the child to reside in the prison.
If the application is not approved, the applicant is provided with an explanation and appropriate counselling and support until she is better placed to submit a further application (if required). If the applicant does not accept the decision, an appeal may be lodged.
How the application is assessed
The LWM Operational Steering Committee reviews all applications made to the LWM Program. Consideration of each application is based on the best interests of the child and must include:
- a summary of the applicant’s offence and remand/sentence status including earliest release date.
- assessment of the applicant including their response to imprisonment, program participation, conduct, incidents, and a detailed social history.
- the applicant’s reason for requesting to have the child in custody.
- history of the child, including age, siblings, other family members, known medical condition(s) and profile development.
- details and assessment of child’s current placement (if the child is born).
- any involvement with Child Protection and the mother’s history of protective behaviour towards her children.
- whether the applicant has legal custody of the child.
- a review of the suitability of the proposed external carer nominated by the applicant to care for the child if the applicant is unable to continue to care for the child in prison or in the event of a prison emergency.
- copies of immunisations, Medicare card and birth certificate of the child.
- a letter from the child’s external parent (where applicable) supporting the mother’s application for their child reside in the prison.
- plans to transition the mother and child back into the community at the end of the mother’s custodial sentence.
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
Under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, families are entitled to be protected by society and the State, 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 listed above and any other matter relevant to the circumstances of the mother and child.
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
Applicants who are accepted into the LWM Program reside in dedicated units that meet community standards for the safe, and secure housing of children. Dedicated Mothers and Children Units are available at both DPFC and Tarrengower Prison. These units are cottage style living with self-contained kitchens, living areas, bedrooms and bathrooms.
Cell accommodation is not appropriate for the program and as such, applicants who reside in this type of accommodation will not be eligible.
The LWM Program has full-time Parenting Support Workers who are responsible for the running and administration, which includes regular monitoring of the safety and wellbeing of all children involved.
The Parenting Support Workers also oversee the delivery of a number of programs that assist prisoners to enhance their parenting skills and confidence as parents. These programs include early childhood health and development and a Maternal and Child Health Nurse visits both prisons on a regularly basis to assist with nutritional and health requirements of babies and young children.
Alternative, care arrangements and support
It is understood that at times, LWM Program participants will need to attend various appointments such as: Court, programs, medical, recreation and education, which children cannot attend. Participants will be required to nominate alternative caregivers to assist in providing parenting support.
The two types of caregivers are:
- Internal caregivers are women prisoners nominated by the mother, pending the completion of a suitability assessment
- External caregivers are members of the community nominated by the mother. External caregivers provide support when participants 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 LWM program
The Deputy Commissioner can withdraw LWM Program participants at any time. This is most likely to occur if the participant is:
- involved in the commission of a serious prison offence
- produces a positive drug result
- moved to a hospital, or
- transferred to a protection or management unit, which is not considered suitable for accommodating a child.
Withdrawal from the LWM 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.
COVID-19 impact on the Program
All new mothers and children approved to participate in the LWM Program must complete a 14-day period of protective quarantine within the dedicated LWM units. This is to ensure that the mother and/or child do not present with symptoms of COVID-19 before they have access to the other women accommodated at the prison.
- Residents under quarantine are able to move freely within the unit but must remain within the unit until they have completed the 14 day quarantine period and have been medically cleared.
- All welfare and medical services are delivered to the mother and child either via a remote service tool or dressed in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) attire. The units are self-catering, so food and supplies are delivered to the unit for the mother to manage.
For the most up-to-date information on prison visits during the pandemic, check the Corrections Victoria website: https://www.corrections.vic.gov.au/prisons/contacting-and-visiting-prisoners
Living with Mum Program enquiries can be submitted to email inbox which will be forwarded onto the relevant area and location to follow up.
Urgent queries can be addressed by calling the prison directly: 03 9217 8400.
The Commissioner's Requirement, CR 3.4.1 Living with mum program 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.
- a Fun with Mum Program at DPFC on alternate Sundays.
- DPFC on Saturdays and alternate Sundays is the Shine for Kids Program (External link)
- special family visit days throughout the year.