Invisible children and the Government

Making invisible children visible in Government agencies

invisiblechildrenGovernment agencies that we interviewed as stakeholders were very ready to engage with us on the question of the visibility or otherwise of prisoners’ children in their policies and practices.

Our baseline finding is that the invisible children of prisoners have indeed been almost invisible in the research agenda, policy and areas of practice in New Zealand.

However, organisations expressed a lot of interest in beginning to understand and acknowledge this problem, especially where action could prevent the children of prisoners ending up in the justice system themselves.

In some sectors, issues relating to invisible children and justice have received some attention at the policy level.

Some work has already started in the justice and health sectors.

Often there are several drivers to this current work. For example, the police have recently revised and developed new policies in relation to children during the execution of search warrants, a need that developed specifically out of concerns over a series of raids undertaken in 2007 in the area around Ruatoki, which involved armed offenders entering family homes.

Other police policies include:

  1. Kids in labs, a protocol for ensuring the safety of children when P labs are discovered
  2. A new inter-agency policies around youth offending
  3. Initiatives linked to the prominent family violence prevention agenda.

We were told that there was increasing concern by health agencies about the health and mental health, not only of prisoners (although this is a topical concern) but also of families and children. While the work with children does not specifically target prisoners’ invisible children, new work on conduct disorders and severe anti-social behaviour is likely to assist many children with parents in prison.

How well do agencies work together for invisible children?

There is a significant amount of inter-agency work going on around a range of health issues, including addiction services.

However, we also were told that there was some tension between agencies, and in particular between the Ministry of Health and the Department of Corrections, over service provision, priorities and processes.

For this reason, and because health services are devolved to individual District Health Boards, and because services are not always provided where they are required, the health sector does not have an integrated response to the health needs of the families and children of prisoners.

We were told: there are so many service gaps to fill, that while this is an important area it is not yet on the policy agenda.

How do you think Government SHOULD treat invisible children?

What is your reaction to these facts about well-intentioned Government officials? We are most interested to hear any comment you can make.

Please leave a comment (even a short two or three sentences) in the comment box below here. Thanks! Much appreciated.

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