15 October 2020

A parenting education program for mothers in the Adelaide Women’s Prison is being designed and evaluated over the next two years, considering the specific cultural needs of Aboriginal and migrant communities.

Led by a team of researchers from the University of South Australia in collaboration with the SA Prison Health Service (SAPHS) and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), the program aims to help the growing number of Australian women being imprisoned in the past five years – a 48 per cent rise – and the impact on their children.

Primary researcher, UniSA midwife and PhD candidate Belinda Lovell, says more than half of women in prison have dependent children under the age of 15.

“These women have complex histories, involving child abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse,” Lovell says. “These life events, combined with a lack of nurturing and poor role models in their own childhood, often makes parenting more challenging.”

UniSA researchers will design a parenting program that is specifically tailored to women in prison, many of whom struggle to maintain relationships with family and their children.

“Imprisonment is an opportunity for women to change their lives, rehabilitate and access new opportunities that are available in prison. It can be an appropriate time to improve their parenting skills with the right support and guidance,” Lovell says.

South Australia is the only state not to have a mother-and-infant facility for women in prison, although one is in development. The separation can have serious emotional, physical and psychological effects on both the mother and child, researchers say.

In a global review of existing parenting programs for incarcerated women, UniSA researchers found evidence that mothers can be supported through discussion groups, role plays, handouts and videos, but more input was needed from the women themselves.

Researcher and principal supervisor, Prof Mary Steen, says there is also limited evidence to demonstrate the long-term effects of parenting education once the mothers are released from prison.

More than 700,000 women and girls are imprisoned globally, comprising 6.9 per cent of the prison population worldwide. The rate of women being imprisoned around the world has also increased by 53 per cent since 2000, compared to a 20 per cent increase in male incarceration. Prof Steen says more research needs to be undertaken to explain the jump in women being sentenced to prison in the past 20 years.

Notes for Editors

 “The Parenting Education Needs of Women Experiencing Incarceration in South Australia” is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It is authored by UniSA researchers Belinda Lovell, Mary Steen, Adrian Esterman and Angela Brown.


Media contact: Candy Gibson office +61 8 8302 0961 mobile: +61 434 605 142
email: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au

Lead researcher: Belinda Lovell mobile: 0421 124 598 email: belinda.lovell@mymail.unisa.edu.au
Prof Mary Steen mobile: 0412 228 066

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