Barnardos Australia has been protecting children from abuse and neglect for more than 130 years. We work to keep vulnerable children safe at home with their families, whenever possible, through our intensive support services.
One of the most vulnerable groups in the community is without doubt those children whose mothers are in prison, especially in rural and indigenous communities. These children not only face the trauma of losing the most important figure in their young lives, but also suffer attachment and self-esteem issues which affect their development and ability to learn and form future relationships. Many mothers of these children, have been incarcerated for relatively minor infractions brought about by entrenched social disadvantage. These mothers in custody have histories of abuse and disadvantage, without any positive parenting experience to draw on for their own children. Barnardos aims to break this cycle of inter-generational abuse, disadvantage and re-incarceration through its Beyond Barbed Wire program.
For the past seven years, Barnardos have been working within the walls of Wellington Correctional Centre, in western NSW, facilitating a range of parenting programs with women in custody who have children. These programs focus on strengthening skills and parenting capacity to assist mothers to maintain positive relationships with their children and families pre and post release. The program also aims to support women from re-offending by tackling the issues facing them when released from custody, including social isolation, lack of access to services and unstable/unsafe accommodation custody, which also impact on the safety and wellbeing of their children.
Barnardos Beyond Barbed Wire program also supports work placements for women nearing the end of their sentence, short stay accommodation, and afternoon groups for young women who have a parent in custody as well as a mentoring program. Upon release from gaol, mothers are matched with a trained mentor in their community. The role of a mentor is to provide these women with a positive connection back into the community; supporting and empowering them to increase their parenting capacity to keep their children safe. Mentors initiate weekly outings with participants, as well as regular phone calls, texts or emails to keep them on the right track.
Mothers participating in the program and their children, mentors and Barnardos staff spend weekends together at Cowra Breakaway Camp. Taking part in enriching outdoor experiences and adventure-based challenges together has served to cement relationships and increase self-esteem. Most importantly, many of the mothers and children have never taken part in activities such as water sports and go-karting, and these positive experiences have opened their eyes to what is possible and what they can achieve in life with the right attitude and perseverance.
The program has been an outstanding success with only a 6% re-offending rate over a period of 18 months for mothers who have taken part in the program. These results are excellent given the rate of recidivism for indigenous women leaving prison is estimated at 76%.
Barnardos Australia would like to thank the support and generosity of the James N. Kirby Foundation which allows us to provide ongoing training for volunteer mentors, and with it, the opportunity for women leaving custody to reconnect with their children, families and the community, in order to give them and the next generation a better future.
Senior Manager, Barnardos Western NSW