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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Parenting Roles And Experiences Of Abuse In Women Offenders: Review Of The Offender Intake Assessments

Contacts with children during incarceration

Information in the OIAs' Domain Comments in most cases did not provide data on whether a woman was in contact with her child(ren) during incarceration. This type of data was reported for only 114 women, that is 35% of all women with children. It should not be interpreted that other women did not have contact with their children, but rather, that the OIAs did not provide information to determine the proportion of women who stayed in touch with their children during incarceration. Out of those for whom this type of information was available, 67 women (58.8%) had contact with their child(ren), 29 women (25.4%) did not have contact with their children and 18 women (15.8%) planed to or were in the process of applying for Private Family Visits (meeting in private with family members/children in separate facilities).

Most of the Domain Comments in the OIAs did not specify the type of contact women had with their children throughout the period of their incarceration, but rather provided general comments such as, "... has a supportive and ongoing relationship with her children," or "...maintains regular contact with children." However, in some instances specific information on the type of contact was available. Based on that information, it appeared that visits and/or phone calls were the most frequent ways of maintaining contact with children. The frequency of phone calls and/or visits was in some instances also recorded and ranged from a phone call per day to an "occasional" phone call or visit every one or two months.

    It seemed relevant to explore the extent to which those women who maintained contact with their children during this period were also involved in childcare prior to incarceration. Limited data allow only a rough estimate, but suggest that women who lived with their children prior to incarceration (either as single parents or with the child and his/her father) were more likely to have maintained contact with their children during incarceration. However, it is noteworthy that one third of those who maintained contact with their children during incarceration most likely did not previously live with them full-time, as indicated in Domain Comments. A more complete set of data on this aspect of mothering is necessary, however, in order to have more confidence in the results.

There were other important aspects of mother-child contact during the mother's incarceration that bear examination. It was very clear that mothers were to a great extent dependent on others to "facilitate" their contacts with children. Consistent with the Survey findings, the OIAs Review also showed that in some instances, a positive and supportive relationship between the mother and her child's careprovider were reported in the Domain Comments of women's OIAs. There were also an entirely opposite situations described, in which the child's careprovider was reluctant to bring the child to the facility or assist the mother in maintaining contact with her child. Some Domain Comments clearly conveyed staff's sensitivity to women's needs regarding their roles as mothers. For instance, in some cases, it was documented that the institutional staff assisted women to get in touch with their children's foster parents, and that efforts were made to assist the child's transfer to another foster parent who lived closer to the institution. Other comments in the OIAs expressed the view that it would be "beneficial for the woman to apply for the Private Family Visits and maintain contact with her children," yet it was not clear whether this view reflected the mother's needs and plans, or rather what was assumed would be helpful for her. This needs to be explored further given the relevance of distinguishing between women's needs and others' assumptions as to what their needs may be, with respect to maintaining contact with children.