Children with parents in prison are more likely to have poorer health, education and social lives than other children, a newly released research publication has found.

Superu, formerly known as the Families Commission, released the publication, What Works: Improving today.

It found that the 20,000 children with parents in prison in New Zealand were also at high risk of being sent to prison themselves in the future.

"This release shines a light on the wide range of negative impacts that children with a parent in prison experience, including long term poor health, educational and social outcomes," Superu said.

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A multi-agency approach was needed to help children with parents in prison, said chief executive Clare Ward.

"In many cases, children with a parent in prison come from families who are living with multiple existing problems, including living in poverty. Parental imprisonment compounds the effects of these existing problems," she said.

"This release illustrates the need for policy that takes a multi-agency approach to improving outcomes for children with a parent in prison.

"Attention should be turned to effective interventions at the earliest stages as that's when the child's outcomes are most likely to be improved, as well as being most cost effective for society as a whole."

Pillars, an organisation that supports families with relatives in prison, said the findings in the publication were not surprising.

"There are no surprises here that children of prisoners are the vulnerable of the vulnerable children in our community.

"We are pleased though about the spotlight on the needs of these children and support the development of a multi-agency approach,' said chief executive Verna McFelin.

"One of the greatest barriers is the stigma they experience in the community, including in various agencies, that the children as seen as 'little criminals.'

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"These are children, in a situation they didn't choose and need to be prioritised for support."

Ms McFelin said effective multi-agency support would see "a cohesive plan to support children of prisoners from the time their parent is arrested through to the time that parent is released back into their lives, taking into account all agencies that will have contact with that child."

That included police, justice and the courts, education, health and social development.

"These agencies would consult with Pillars around our research and practice guides to working with children and families of prisoners."