Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
Appendix 3: Norwich and Ormiston
Ormiston works across the Eastern region with families affected by imprisonment. They provide family support services at eight of the region's prisons, enabling children and young people to maintain meaningful contact with their imprisoned parent or relative. This is achieved through the provision of child friendly visits, parenting courses and information and support. The work is currently being extended to include support to families in the community, and they work across service boundaries to raise awareness with other organisations that come into contact with the children of prisoners. This focus group took place as a result of their contacts.
It was felt that probation are not doing much with children and families at the moment, although that may change over time with the National Offender Management Service children and families pathway, which is part of the reducing re-offending strategy. There is a National Offender Management Service families pathway group, however, at present they have no money, direction or model. Consequently, at present provision is down to the voluntary sector and specifically Ormiston. The prison service also plays a role locally and seems to have a positive relationship with Ormiston.
Children’s services have no specific processes in place, and involvement only happens when a child is assessed as a child in need. If mum goes into prison there is more likelihood of involvement, but even with the youth inclusion support panel which targets high-risk children, these children need to be known to the system.
The new Safer Communities strategy will employ pre-support officers and this may pick up some children, but there is an issue with a loss of posts across children’s services locally, and where cases are closed if a parent is in prison as the risk is deemed to no longer be present. The Every Child Matters principles are not really being applied and children of prisoners do come low down in the pile of priorities. Youth Matters is another avenue that supports the targeting of young people at risk and that may see strategy developed.
It was suggested that a vision from the Regional National Offender Management Service office would be helpful as they do have responsibility for partnership development.
Ormiston provision is tied into funding that ends in 2008. At that point it is not clear what will happen to many of the services they currently and uniquely provide. It was felt by the group that when innovative programmes are developed, such as ‘You and your child’ a parenting course delivered in prisons by Ormiston, they are not financially sustainable in the long-term. Additionally, there remains a funding issue across geographical boundaries, for example if the child is not living in the same locality as the prison. This can result in no-one taking responsibility.
Policies and procedures
There are procedures for referring children to Ormiston for support.
It was felt that partnerships are based upon individuals rather than strategy, and that there is nothing that covers the interface between children’s services and the criminal justice system. Safeguarding boards are good in terms of child protection, but nothing else, although it is still early days. The children’s services plan is the main document, but it is not clear who would put children of prisoners on the agenda, as no one is a natural driver. There is still an issue about who is responsible for this area of work.
Good partnerships between Ormiston and some schools have been developed, but this has been dependent upon the school recognising the need, and finding the right person in the school, for example on the pastoral team, to take the issue forward. However, some of the more high achieving schools do not think this is an issue that affects them and they have even refused to put up Ormiston leaflets. In those instances, it is important to find other routes in, such as through the anti-bullying policy. Without a strategic approach this will always be the case.
The Youth Offending Team was given as a good example of a successful partnership characterised by strategy, monitoring and value for money. It is a multi-agency team with a board consisting of police, health, probation and so on. The children and young people’s partnership is a key part of the strategy and this would be a good place to raise the issue of children of prisoners. It would be useful to have some numbers to present, and focus on every child matters outcomes. Ormiston has had its work evaluated and this would back up the need for this group to look at the issue.
Other successful local partnerships are in the voluntary sector, namely Victim Support in Norfolk, which recognises children of prisoners as victims in their own right, Norfolk Young Carers, Norfolk Parent Partnership Women’s Aid, ASB Action Group, and Local Safer Neighbourhoods, which work with police to prevent young people becoming criminalised. So operationally, there are pockets of good practice.
The family solutions team offers a multi-disciplinary response to ensuring children’s well-being. They work with children of school age and take referrals from a range of agencies, including children’s services, although they do not do joint work with children. The work is short-term in nature – on average three months.
There was a feeling that although there are good examples of local partnerships, they are thin on the ground and are reliant on individuals and good will rather than strategy or policy.
Ormiston have started to deliver training to foster carers. So far they have seen 40 to 50 as part of a pilot programme. The sessions began with an introduction and icebreaker, before hearing the voices of six children of differing ages talking about their experiences of having a dad in prison. Discussions included at what stage a child should be told and how; processes of where to get support; visits and how they work. This was done as part of the normal programme of training for foster carers.
Additionally, they have developed a book ‘Working with Children of Prisoners’, for education professionals. This is to go to every school in the region as a way of raising the profile of children of prisoners and informing staff. Training alongside the book will depend upon the funding streams and partnership money continuing next year. Generally, at present, schools get in touch when there is an issue (assuming they know where to go for support), and this handbook will contain information, advice, resources and have a training package. Ormiston has also delivered ‘You and your child’ training in prisons across the region for fathers.
The social work course at the University of East Anglia receives input from Ormiston, but there are gaps in the training of teachers, health workers and community nurses.
The Youth Inclusion Support Panel (YISP) is for young people (eight to 13 years) who are all pre-final warning. In other words it is for before they end up in court or known to the youth offending team. They are characterised by a range of high risk factors, including known offending, and can be referred by a range of agencies and the families themselves. Once a referral is received a two-week validation process is undertaken and intervention will follow if appropriate. The team undertake a lot of tasks that are traditionally done by children’s services, although they do not have statutory responsibility for child protection. Many of these are children have a parent in prison.
There remains a big gap in information for families at court. Invariably, families are not prepared for custody and are not in a position to hear what little information is being given to them. This is an area for development.
Ormiston offers direct support to five- to 13-year-olds with a parent or sibling in prison. They currently see 22 children in Norfolk and take referrals from schools, probation, children’s services, and families from across Essex, Norfolk, Peterborough and Bedford. Support can include escorting children to visits, supporting them in the home, school, and community, undertaking an advocacy role, offering emotional support and support to maintain contact other than visiting. They also provide outings for families to enable them to meet and offer support to each other.
From a schools perspective, Ormiston has been extremely valuable. The key for school is knowing when a child is affected. The ethos of the school and the head teacher are essential in securing support, and again it was reiterated that the key is finding the right person with whom to speak. A child’s behaviour is usually the trigger for concern, as is a change in attendance, although the issues are different for children depending upon their age.
It was felt that many teachers find it difficult to talk about prison, and that children have to ‘self-monitor’ to keep their secrets too often because of societal/school attitudes. This can be very dangerous for a child and can manifest negatively over time. There is also a concern about the levels of support a child can get out of school, particularly when children do not meet the threshold of a child in need.
Action for Prisoners’ Families provide a range of resources for children and families, including books for children and the ‘Homeward bound’ DVD about a dad who is due for release.
Links with prisons
It was suggested that prison is the best place to find out about a family that might be invisible in the community. Prison visits are an ideal place to work with children if the prison has child-friendly facilities, family visits and activities. This would be especially beneficial if parenting in prison involved the carer on the outside.
Much of Ormiston’s work takes place in the prison. The prisons partly fund the prisoners families' programme in the region, along with Ormiston and the Lankelly Foundation. As with all work in prisons, it has to be supported by the governor or it will not happen. This can make provision unstable.
There is an ongoing evaluation of the Ormiston Children and Families of Offenders (formerly known as Time for Families) programme. In 2006 Gill Pugh, the programme’s researcher, produced ‘Time for families: positive outcomes for children and families of offenders using Ormiston services in prisons and the community’. This is an evaluation of the community-based work against Every Child Matters outcomes.
Challenges and obstacles
One of the biggest challenges is identification of children who are at risk. It is the hard to reach young people who are not already known to services. This is coupled with those who are not in full-time education due to exclusion. A steer from the relevant government departments is needed.
Resources are an ongoing issue, and more are needed if this is an area to be tackled effectively. There needs to be a strategic sign-up to the children’s plan and some discussion across National Offender Management Service and Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Lessons for practice
This was not explicitly covered by the focus group.