Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties

Literature review - The voluntary sector

Many prisons have gone some way in recognising the role they need to play, and to that end have invested in more child-friendly facilities, better visiting centres, family visits, and building relationships with the community and voluntary sectors that provide the staff for many of these initiatives. The key to sustaining continued growth and development is secure funding which would enable a longer-term approach and more consistency across the prison estate. This is something echoed by Action for Prisoners’ Families, a campaigning organisation that also coordinate a national helpline for families. They also call for prisoners to be located much closer to home and to have formal agreements between visitors’ centres and the prison, with a standardised system to make it easier for families to visit and maintain contact (96).

Heavy reliance is placed upon the community and voluntary sector, and many years of campaigning to mainstream the issue of children of prisoners has been met with resistance. In general, this has been because these children do not fit neatly into the remit of one government department. Additionally, there is no way of identifying and tracking children, many of whom will not be known, or want to be known, to statutory services. The literature indicates that the situation is the same in other countries, where children continue to be the unseen victims of crime (97), from the point of arrest and throughout the criminal justice process, with only a small number of them defined as children in need (77). In addition to the separation from the parent, the child may also be faced with the loss of their home, loss of family income, stigma, poverty, shame and bullying (79, 85).

There is clearly a role for both criminal justice and social care agencies to play to ensure the minimum impact upon a child, for example at the time of arrest, or during the court appearance. Again, there are examples of practice (see Thames Valley Partnership ‘Information at court’ leaflet) but these are few and far between.