When VACRO’s Aboriginal Family Visits Worker, Sylvia, visited a prison recently, she ran into someone she wasn’t expecting.

“When I arrived, I introduced myself to one of the prison’s staff members," said Sylvia. "She said, ‘I know you!’”

But Sylvia couldn’t immediately place the woman.

Sylvia doesn’t work at the prison; she was visiting to promote VACRO’s Aboriginal Family Visits program, which helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families remain in contact when a family member enters prison.

Just before Sylvia’s session started, the two women had a chance to talk quickly. The prison worker, who we’ll call Acacia, to protect her privacy, explained to Sylvia that a few years ago, she’d been a client of the program.

VACRO had helped Acacia and her daughter visit the girl’s father, who was serving time in prison.

“My daughter was always excited and looked forward to seeing her dad,” Acacia told Sylvia. She said the visits – which provide free train tickets or petrol reimbursements for visiting family members – helped her daughter maintain a strong relationship with her father.

Tragically, soon after his release from prison, Acacia’s partner passed away from an overdose.

She thanked Sylvia for coordinating the visits: “They’re the only memories my daughter has of her dad, and they were happy memories. Without your assistance, I would never have been able to manage the visits on my own.”

The Aboriginal Family Visits Program recognises the importance of maintaining relationships and community connection when a family member goes to prison.

Often, the long distances between home and prisons is prohibitive. And people are moved frequently between different prisons.

It means children may not see their parents for months on end, and strains relationship when the parent leaves prison.

Free transport to prison is a direct, targeted and useful way for families to stay connected, rebuild ties, and support loved ones leaving prison.

For families like Acacia’s, it’s practical support to keep parents and children connected. For Sylvia, it’s an example of why her work matters.

“Even though it’s a small program, it’s wonderful to know it’s making a difference to families in the community,” she said. “Acacia’s is a truly heart-warming story and makes what we do worthwhile.”

More information about Aboriginal Family Visits Program