Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System


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Children of Incarcerated Mothers Project

Giving a Voice to the Hidden Victims of Imprisonment

...an exploratory investigation of the impact of maternal incarceration on children and adolescents...


A collaborative project of the Centre and member agencies of the Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario, with funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre in Ottawa.


When a child is separated from his of her mother by prison bars, he or she will usually have to move out of home, change schools, and be separated from friends and support networks at precisely a time when stability, consistency, and unconditional love and support is needed most. They experience loss and grief, fear and confusion. They are the hidden victims of our nation's zeal to incarcerate. As a result of this project, a 73-page research report was produced, called Waiting for Mommy.

Waiting for Mommy

Waiting for Mommy: Giving a Voice to the Hidden Victims of Incarceration (2003)
by Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker

This report is a summary of existing research on the effects of maternal incarceration on children and adolescents and includes the results of surveys with incarcerated women and interviews with children. Case studies reveal the emotional impact of a mother's absence on children. Women in prison use their own words to describe their hearaches. The incarceration of a mother often destabilizes a family affected by poverty and other challenges. Results are presented in a developmental framework that explicates the differential impact on children of different ages.

See also a summary prepared for Voices for Children:
Invisible Victims: The Children of Women in Prison (2004)

Data Collection Instruments

Two surveys were designed to collect feedback from mothers:

Survey for Institutionalized Women

Survey for Women After Release


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