The Vulnerable Families Project: A study of paternal incarceration and family wellbeing


1. To understand the impact of paternal incarceration on children, their caregivers, and the imprisoned parent:

  • During the imprisonment period
  • Across the life course

2. To engage key stakeholders and use the evidence base to recommend policy changes

3. To use the evidence base to inform the type and timing of support services for families and imprisoned parents

About the project

The primary aim of this research program is to examine the impact of paternal imprisonment on children, their caregivers, and the imprisoned father through a series of studies. The project also funds a PhD scholar to examine the experiences of incarcerated mothers. It began in 2008 with ARC Linkage Project funding.

The research program is situated within a developmental systems and socio-ecological framework with the child’s wellbeing our central focus. We examine the ways the incarceration of a father shapes his relationship with his child, the child’s relationship with the caregiver, the availability of social supports and extent of social exclusion, families’ experiences of stigmatisation, children’s school engagement, general wellbeing of caregivers and children, and the reciprocal nature of these processes. Additional funding from the Department of Premier and Cabinet has allowed us to examine the unique experiences of Indigenous fathers in prisons in North Queensland.

In 2009 Susan Dennison was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to examine the intergenerational consequences of paternal incarceration, both in Australia and through international comparative research. This work is ongoing.

As parental incarceration is a major risk factor for offspring offending, incarceration and other poor life outcomes, this research is important for creating an evidence-base to guide policy and programs to prevent the intergenerational transmission of offending.

Project Leader: Professor Susan Dennison

Project Team: Professor Anna Stewart, Dr Kate Freiberg, Dr Kirsten Besemer, Holly Smallbone, Rebecca Wallis

Current and Former Industry Partners: Queensland Government; Catholic Prison Ministry

Project Value: $1 million

Type of Funding: Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project (LP0776296); ARC Future Fellowship (FT0991557); Indigenous Criminal Justice Research Agenda (Department Premier and Cabinet)

Dates: 2007 – Present

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