Vacro welcomes the publication of the Inquiry into Children Affected by Parental Incarceration’s final report. We were grateful to have multiple opportunities to present our vision for how the children and families of people who are incarcerated should be supported to the Inquiry.

The Committee has recommended that the Victorian Government consider establishing a dedicated unit, branch, or agency within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) which has a specific mandate to respond to children and families of people affected by incarceration. This was our primary recommendation to the Committee. Our decades of experience supporting the families of people who are incarcerated have made it clear that such a body is vital to ensure children and families can access the support and services they need. We strongly encourage the government to implement this recommendation.

The Committee’s recommendations that children’s interests and welfare are considered primary throughout a family’s interaction with the justice system, from arrest through to trial, sentencing, incarceration, and release, also strongly align with our vision. We know that strong relationships can be the most important thing sustaining families during a loved one’s interactions with the justice system. People who leave prison with their family around them are also more likely to be able to build a new life away from crime.

Furthermore, the Committee has recommended the government fund family support programs like ours on a longer and broader basis to ensure family relationships can be maintained and strengthened during a prison sentence. Court-based family support services, in-prison parenting programs, specialist family counselling, and meaningful visitation both in prison and using technology, must all be essential components of this service system.

While these recommendations are a strong start, government commitment to the formal recognition of the children and families of people in the justice system in policy and service design will be necessary to ensure people are empowered to create new beginnings and stronger communities. We hope a government response to this report will recognise that.

In the meantime, our advocacy will continue. Vacro has developed a Vision for Families impacted by the criminal justice system, reflecting our specialist expertise in this space, which will be launched in due course.