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Supporting Children of Incarcerated Mothers: Creating Conditions for Integrated Social Service Delivery Using Scenario-Based Workshops

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Understanding the service delivery system for children of incarcerated mothers is crucial for developing evidence-based innovations that promote integrated social service delivery. However, the system’s complexity and invisible infrastructure pose challenges in gaining a comprehensive overview, and there is limited literature detailing methods to navigate this complexity. Our study bridges this gap by evaluating the efficacy of using fictional scenarios to foster conversations about collaboration among service providers who support the children of incarcerated mothers. In total, 21 service providers from seven agencies participated in scenario-based workshops. The workshops were audio recorded, transcribed, and qualitatively analysed. Findings indicated that the scenarios resonated with the participants and revealed details of the often invisible infrastructure within the system. The emotional resonance of the scenarios played a pivotal role, cultivating empathy, enriching the exploration of shared experiences, and prompting discussions on broader systemic issues. Importantly, the scenarios stimulated conversations about collaboration, showcasing a genuine desire among service providers for collaborative efforts and clarifying roles and responsibilities within the complex system. These findings underscore the scenario method’s effectiveness in identifying the complexities of the service system, fostering collaborative conversations, and providing crucial insights to enhance the service delivery system supporting children of incarcerated mothers. Future research should explore whether embedding this method into a more structured approach, such as a Community of Practice, could lead to measurable and sustained improvements in integrated service delivery for the children of incarcerated mothers.


  • Workshop conversations create shared understandings of barriers to collaboration

  • Shared belief in the need for collaboration was created in workshop conversations

  • Relatable scenarios lead to service providers working towards solutions

  • Scenario-based discussions generated shared understandings of service systems

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Any opinions, findings, or conclusions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. This work was carried out as part of the Transforming Corrections to Transform Lives project ( The authors thank the Paul Ramsay Foundation for funding this project and the Griffith Criminology Institute and School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University for their additional support. This project was carried out in close consultation with Queensland Corrective Services, and we are grateful for the support of the Commissioner and all members of QCS. The authors also acknowledge that this project work was carried out by the TCTL research team members, past and present. The project draws on expert insights from many service providers and their time and contributions are greatly valued.


The research was funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation (grant number: 5090).

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Correspondence to Corrie Williams.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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The research protocol for this project was approved by the Griffith University Human Research Ethics Committee (Ref No: 2020/777). Informed consent was sought and received in line with this approved protocol.

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Williams, C., McGee, T.R., Jenkins, B.Q. et al. Supporting Children of Incarcerated Mothers: Creating Conditions for Integrated Social Service Delivery Using Scenario-Based Workshops. J Child Fam Stud 33, 1–13 (2024).

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