Children’s Expectations, Experiences and Social Support during Parental Re-entry from Prison: a New Zealand Study
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New Zealand incarceration rates continue to increase and thus do the number of children experiencing parental imprisonment. Estimates reveal that at any given time, as many as 23,000 New Zealand children have one or both parents in prison. However, research examining the impact of parental incarceration on children is scarce both in New Zealand and internationally. Children of prisoners are, therefore, the hidden survivors of the prison industrial complex. Using a transformative research design, this study conducted semi-structured interviews to explore children’s expectations and experiences of parental re-entry from prison in New Zealand and subsequently determine the factors that contribute to a positive re-entry experience for children. Interviewed were seven children (aged 7-16), their non-imprisoned parent (or other primary caregiver) and two community practitioners. The findings reveal that the majority of children want and are excited at the prospect of a post-release relationship with their incarcerated parent, with hopes and expectations of re-establishing the family unit. Yet, nearly all describe the transition as unexpectedly difficult, conveying disappointment due to unmet expectations. During these difficult times, children seek social support, which is often strained and limited due to the parental incarceration. For their social support, children seek out significant others, such as family or friends, or accessible professionals, such as community practitioners, teachers and mentors. The children also get involved in highly social leisure activities, such as team sports and community events. The study concludes that child-centred programmes are required to meet children’s daily needs and experiences throughout parental re-entry both in the community and in prisons.