Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
Appendix 3: Banbury and the Thames Valley Partnership
Thames Valley Partnership undertook a scoping exercise across the Thames Valley and found that levels of knowledge about this issue were practically non-existent. The subsequent training brought together a range of agencies, many of whom had not met before. From this came the Banbury family matters group is made up of interested individuals who have the backing of their organisations to do this work, although for many it is not part of their organisational strategy. Consequently, much relies on good will and having an individual or an organisation such as Thames Valley Partnership to broker arrangements and agreements, coordinate and plan events.
The Banbury group identified several pieces of strategy requiring a multi-agency approach that provides a useful backdrop to the development of this work. This includes the common assessment framework, as well as national offender management service children and families pathway and several other multi-agency groups such as the multi-agency public protection arrangements, the multi-agency risk assessment committee, and children at risk of offending. Additionally, Safer Communities and Crime Reduction guidance have helped to secure some commitment, even though it is not yet on a strategic footing. What this does is bring in criminal justice agencies and this makes the interface between social care, education and health that bit easier.
The Oxfordshire Children’s Plan has a remit to work with children at risk of exclusion, and children of prisoners fall into this category, which adds some strategic weight, as does the Children’s Centre Guidance, Chapter 19, which sets out responsibilities and expectations on children centre staff.
Thames Valley Partnership has funding from a range of agencies, although none of the organisations involved have dedicated budgets. However, they give money through staff time, development of resources and office space for meetings. “Use what you have to create what you need” is the motto.
Policies and procedures
There is very little in the way of formal policies and procedures, although the Banbury group have developed criteria for referral as well as consent forms for families.
Agencies in Banbury have a history of working together and Thames Valley Partnership was able to tap into this using local knowledge. The Sunshine Centre is also a hub for local activity. This helped with their initial enquiries, and they were also able to tap into other multi-agency partnerships to identify key people. They also have links with other experts in the field and they have been able to use resources developed by Action for Prisoners’ Families, which form part of the resource and training pack they have put together.
Thames Valley Partnership has provided training and awareness-raising in several parts of the Thames Valley. Not only has this been a catalyst to the work in Banbury, but several other localities are following suit. They have developed a resource pack which is a tool for the training and has been used both in the prisons and community to link ‘inside out and outside in’. The training has proven to be valuable, not least because it has allowed exchange of information across service boundaries in a way that has not been done before, for example Sure Start staff training prison officers and vice versa. It also introduced the probation service to Sure Start and education.
Another extremely positive outcome is that behaviour support staff from the Banbury group have spent time developing a pack of training materials for teachers and teaching assistants for working with children of prisoners. The pack guides staff and children through the whole process from arrest to post-release. This is something they have done in their own time and which they hope will be published for wider use.
The Family Links Project will be taking on the training of children centre staff and prison officers from HMP Bullingdon for them to run the same Parenting Programme both inside and out. This is with a view to having joint sessions with both parents at the children’s centre on release. This is a new programme that will be evaluated. Meeting people at training has undoubtedly helped this group to form and take on many of the issues, not least of which is the importance of the family and working together, rather than in isolation.
The Banbury Family Matters group meet every three months. Members are able to raise individual families for discussion with a view to agreeing plans for support and intervention. The network first met in November 2006 and agreed terms of reference, criteria for referral, and a form for consent to be signed by parents.
Clearly, there may be times when consent is not required from the family if there is a concern about keeping a child safe, but in other circumstances, consent is required.
The network has just worked with a few families so far but early outcomes have been positive. There is an email group and so all members have contact details to facilitate exchange of information outside of the group. Thames Valley Partnership has also been working to raise awareness in Slough, Bicester and High Wycombe, and they will all be following the same model.
The forum enables a sharing of information that brings the holistic needs of the family together alongside a wealth of expertise. This is not work that can be done by organisations in isolation. It is a good model but the Banbury group felt it could do with being underpinned by strategy.
Links with prisons
Thames Valley Partnership has successfully brokered links with local prisons and this has translated into useful contacts for the community. The prisons are notoriously difficult to communicate with, but at least there is now much more understanding of roles and responsibilities. HMP Bullingdon has now started family visits as a result of the commitment of one of the governors, and the training across the Thames Valley may well see other outcomes as a result of the awareness-raising and development of better local links.
Members of the Banbury group reported that of the small number of families they have worked with, there have been changes in behaviour of parents and children and a far more coordinated and considered response from the range of agencies working to support them.
Challenges and obstacles
There is still an issue about identification and tracking of children. Head teachers may not always know about parents, and it was felt that there needs to be a procedure to overcome this. What tends to happen is that information comes out as a result of a child’s change of behaviour, or when there is an article in the local paper. Yet, children spend most of their days in school and it is important for the school to be aware of the information. There is a child support worker in every school, but no way of identifying children affected. Communication is seen as the biggest barrier, as information-sharing does not always take place.
Lessons for practice
- Identifying this area has been useful and ensured managerial support.
- It was felt crucial to have coordination from one central point to start things off, and the Banbury group are happy that it will continue once Thames Valley Partnership withdraw.
- For the children’s centre it was felt that a dedicated post would be really useful to enable prison visits.
- It was felt that perseverance is essential to engage with the wide range of agencies needed to make the Banbury group effective, and particularly for getting into the prisons.
- The prisons need to let social services know about whether parents are completing parenting programmes and other interventions.