CHILDREN who have mothers and fathers behind bars should be given better support, a Victorian government inquiry has been told.
An upper house committee has heard there were about 43,000 Australian children who had parents in custody, but there was no minister or government department specifically tasked with helping them.
Research from the University of Western Australia has warned that children with incarcerated parents were 63 per cent more likely to be developmentally vulnerable when they start school, compared to their peers.
The research also noted the children have a higher risk of poor social, emotional, cognitive, and communicative development than other children.
The SHINE for Kids organisation - originally known as the Children of Prisoners' Support Group - told the committee it only received funding for three of the state's jails.
SHINE national operations manager April Long recommended funding be extended to cover programs for children whose parents were at Loddon Correctional Centre in northern Victoria and the Tarrengower Women's Prison in central Victoria.
"Children of prisoners fall through the cracks created by inadequate program funding, ad hoc service provision and a lack of clarity in law and policy as to how best to respond to them and ensure their rights and needs are met," she said.
Ms Long estimated 50 per cent of people in custody were parents, meaning there would be about 3575 Victorian inmates who had children on the outside who needed their support.
Friends of the Castlemaine Library established a program for prisoners to record bedtime stories for their children in 2012, which has expanded and grown from the Loddon prison.
The group's president Denise Jepson told the committee it helped mums and dads connect from behind bars.
"We did notice that the kids were getting equally affected by the whole program as the dads were and the mums," she said.
"So for us there are four outcomes, and one of them - and the most important in this context - is the better social and emotional help for the children...and the improved relationship between the parent and child, because some of them had not that much contact with their kids," she said.
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Ms Jepson said university research had shown the program significantly reduced recidivism when the parents left prison.
"An offshoot is also improved literacy for both child and parent," she said.
"So it helps the child with their schoolwork and some of them take the books to school as well."
Ms Jepson said the prisoners took a lot of loving care with the presentation of the packages sent home through the project.
"They do these beautiful designs for their kiddies. That was a thing that we had not really thought about until after we started doing it," she said.
The inquiry is ongoing.
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