2 December 2021
On 29 November, NSW Corrective Services informed SHINE for Kids that children in NSW under 12 will be banned from visiting their parent in prison because they are unvaccinated. Yet in NSW, children under 12 can’t be vaccinated and so cannot meet this new criteria.
SHINE calls on the NSW government to end this Catch 22 situation immediately. The government must reverse this decision to allow children under 12 to be able to visit their parent in custody without such a measure implemented, children will have no visits for the foreseeable future.
Transmission rates in children under 12 is low. Safety measures could instead be taken in prisons by boosting vaccination rates for prisoners and ensuring good hygiene and social distancing where possible.
As the news is being shared with families, SHINE for Kids has been contacted by a number of concerned mothers whose children had a visit booked with dad this weekend. This includes one mum, whose 5- and 3-year-old children have not had a face-to-face visit with their dad in over 6 months. As she said to us: “How do I tell my children they won’t get to see Dad now until after Christmas?”
In fact, there is no timeline, as there has been no date released for children under 12 to be vaccinated. These children can still attend school, day-care, a football match or go to the movies but they can’t see their parent. SHINE for Kids has set up a 1800 support line for these children and families.
In a recent survey on the impact of COVID-19 visiting restrictions on children, parents told us:
- 95% had experienced negative consequences as a result of visits being restricted
- 40% of carers disagreed that they were coping
- 69% disagreed or strongly disagreed that the children in their care were coping
- 84% disagreed that the imprisoned person was coping
In 2020, SHINE for Kids supported over 3,200 children in NSW under 12. They and others will be impacted by these visiting restrictions. In addition, 30% of children with a parent in prison are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. In a health setting, we have seen exceptions made that acknowledge the importance of family connections (allowing children under 12 to visit maternity wards to meet siblings). It is critical for the wellbeing of children that they have face-to-face contact with their parent in prison. Children should be able to participate fully in society, and that includes visiting their parents in prison.
We draw attention to the mental health implications of the removal of visiting rights at this time of heightened anxiety both for children and their parents. The suspension of all prison visiting for children under 12 is a serious interference with the rights of children to maintain a connection with their parent and enjoy family life.
During the pandemic, the only way most children have been able to have contact with their parent in prison has been by telephone or video. Children who are pre-verbal and many who are very young or have a disability are unable to engage with this form of communication. The consequence of this is that children who fall into those groups have had what has amounted to a complete cessation of contact with their family. Children have a right to enjoy a family life, whether their parents are imprisoned or not.
SHINE has heard from parents and grandparents who are finding it very difficult to look after children to whom they can give no answers about when they will see their parent again.
“All measures taken which limit visiting or contact must be strictly time-limited and should not exceed the duration of the pandemic: as soon as it is safe for people in custody, prison staff and children, normal visiting procedures should be resumed. We recommended that children must be allowed to visit their parents in prison on a socially distanced basis and call on the NSW government to put additional funding and support into services supporting these children, more reliable video visits, and supporting family reunification after parental release, said April Long, National Operations Manager, SHINE for Kids.
If families and children need support contact SHINE for Kids on 1800 744 630.
For all media enquiries, please contact Julianne Sanders at [email protected].
We have families affected by this decision who are willing to speak to media, please contact us to discuss.
Our team in the ACT were interviewed by Speech Pathology Australia Senior Advisor, Justice Mary Woodward. They discuss the unique challenges children in custody face and the ways speech pathologists can better […]