Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
Appendix 3: String of Pearls and Reducing Re-offending Action Plan children and family pathway group, Devon and Cornwall
String of Pearls is a small charity that was able to secure funding to undertake multi-agency training about the children of prisoners and help local services to get this issue on the agenda. The children and family pathway group agreed to meet to discuss the issues in greater detail.
It was felt that there was a lack of strategy and protocols in the area, and that this resulted in ambiguity as to who has responsibility for children of prisoners. In Cornwall the Reducing Re-offending Action Plan and families pathway group were given a mandate by the Children and Young People’s Partnership and local safeguarding board to adopt the String of Pearls training as part of its 2006/07 work plan. It was also supported by the local community safety partnership and local area agreement partnership group. However, the next stage is to see if this can be developed further and getting a more formalised approach through the local safeguarding board.
Funding for String of Pearls comes from several sources: Lankelly Chase Foundation, Tudor Trust, Devon and Cornwall Probation Service, Anchor Foundation and Live Music Now! This added up to £30,000 and enabled the delivery of 30 one-day training packages across the South West. However, funding for mainstreaming this work is a key issue.
Policies and procedures
The biggest gap remains the inability to identify and track children who are affected. While schools are seen by the group as the linchpin, there is no guarantee that they will know the child’s situation. The common assessment framework is seen as the assessment that should be used to generate a response and these can be initiated by the school which can refer to the common assessment framework assessment team. Every school has a child protection officer and social inclusion coordinators who should be able to facilitate communication with other agencies about contact between a child and imprisoned parent.
There are several examples of good partnerships across the county, mainly relating to statutory responsibilities such as MAPPA. Participants also reported good relationships with social services, and family centres and clear and positive guidance from the county-wide safeguarding board. Additionally, there is a children and young persons’ partnerships strategy board, and each district has local area groups, aiming to develop a more integrated approach.
String of Pearls became an independent charity in 2004 when they started to run workshops for families using art to express emotions. However, more recently they have had a focus on multi-agency awareness training, with emphasis on the impact on children, housing and the distance families have to travel to visit relatives. Training carried out by String of Pearls is multi-agency and nearly 50 people have experienced the advantages of meeting those who work in very different areas from themselves. The training brought together criminal justice, social work, and education and health professionals throughout the Southwest region.
String of Pearls has produced material for their training packs, including interviews with families, a short film about young homeless people, and training exercises. The training was successful and a contacts database has now been circulated so that all participants can keep in touch and communicate as required. There are now plans to do training on practical steps that can be taken at all stages of the criminal justice system, with post-release a particularly difficult stage.
There are no prisons in Cornwall, although approximately 1,200 Cornwall residents are in institutions across the Southwest region and beyond. As a result there are particular issues about distance to visit, logistics of getting there, cost (especially if staying overnight is required) and inclination when so much effort is required for a visit. Reinforcing these difficulties is a lack of communication, family splits, and a lack of awareness about how the prison system works. However, there are information packs through St Austell Social Services on prison visits and what to do. This is aimed at families.
PACT (Prison Advice and Care Trust) provides a lot of services locally, including a court service at Plymouth and Bodmin Magistrates’ Courts, where they are able to see everybody. This puts them in a prime position to ask questions about children. However, there are issues around confidentiality and there needs to be collaboration to determine where any such information should go. Similarly, with the First Night Centre in HMP Exeter, PACT can ask questions, but again there is not necessarily anyone to pass the information on to. Consequently, any identification requires a strategy to underpin the sharing of information.
Links with prisons
PACT is the main link but is struggling to maintain its funding for the future. As ever, a lot of this work depends on the prison governor.
The only outcomes focus upon the success of the training and the importance of using the experience to keep this issue on the agenda of relevant policy makers.
Challenges and obstacles
The challenges and obstacles identified by the group are many, and not least who has responsibility for raising the issue of children of prisoners with the local safeguarding board. Other issues are:
- transition for 16- to 18-year-olds, where there is a major lack of service provision
- care leavers are a particular concern
- short sentences are the norm and an average three-month sentence means the prisoner is only in for six weeks. Invariably, no services are available and homelessness an issue.
- funding and knowledge: where to go and who is the main contact?
- distance to prisons (80 to 180 miles away)
- no prevention services available
- impact on benefits
- cost of transport to prisons
- logistics on getting to prisons
- assumption of exclusion from family unit.
Lessons for practice
- String of Pearls multi-agency training proved to be more successful than training for single professional groups. The free training (otherwise funded by training/pooled budgets) was successful in allowing a range of people to attend. However, this does need to be a rolling programme with some follow-up, and it seemed to fulfil its aim to demonstrate the need to train professionals who come into contact with families and children of prisoners.
- String of Pearls found that 16- and 17-year-olds have been hardest to reach and they have been using music as a way to reach out to this group.