Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
The following conclusions have been derived from both the literature review and the field research. This section is split into four sub-headings:
- There is a need to establish the true number of children affected by parental imprisonment.
- While the experience of one disadvantage can create family difficulties, analysis suggests that experiencing multiple disadvantages can have compounded effects.
- While there are correlations between the effects of parental imprisonment and the impact on children’s emotional and developmental needs, the research suggests this is not necessarily causal.
- Poverty and deprivation are highlighted as factors in parental imprisonment. Support for families classed as deprived is often linked to where they live.
- As the prison population continues to increase, so will the number of children affected.
- Not all children with a parent in prison require support.
- It is not always in the best interests of children to maintain family ties or be labelled as children of prisoners because of the implications for their future.
- Responses from the questionnaire reinforce the low priority held by this group as well as concern for already stretched resources.
- A growing issue across the UK is the number of foreign national prisoners in the prison population, and the added difficulties for their families.
- There is a lack of culturally specific services to families from black and minority ethnic and travelling communities.
- The prison population keeps expanding, as does the number of female prisoners; yet the prison estate does not reflect the need for mothers to be located close to their families.
- The research points to different outcomes across Europe, America and Australasia, specifically between England and Sweden.
- Despite the existence of the Every Child Matters framework and the NOMS Children and Families Pathway, for children of prisoners there is a still a lack of service provision across the UK.
- Service provision depends on where a family lives rather than universal services. This makes it difficult for families and professionals working with them to know where to get the appropriate information and support.
- Where a child is not known to children’s services, there are questions about the legality of identifying children of prisoners and sharing information without the consent of parents.
- Many respondents felt that children of prisoners should be part of current systems of assessment rather than a group in their own right.
- There is practice across the world that addresses the issues raised in this report and supports children and families. However, it is patchy and inconsistent, led by voluntary organisations, is often poorly funded and rarely supported by strategy or policy.
- There is a continuum of practice ranging from initial thoughts about how to develop this area of work through to emerging and established practice. However, not all established practice has been evaluated and this would be required for future development and longitudinal research.
- Funding is always going to be an issue for this work. Much of what has been seen is dependent on the good will of individual and under-resourced voluntary sector organisations rather than a statutory requirement.
- In the UK, no government department has responsibility for this area of work. However, recently the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have produced a Children of Offenders review (122) in which they call for a mechanism to enable local authorities to systematically assess and meet the child’s needs to improve outcomes for children of prisoners. This supports the findings from this project.
- The common assessment framework is the framework for providing a holistic assessment of the child’s needs. It can be initiated by any professional with a concern.
- Training and awareness-raising for professionals about this group of children is absolutely essential. The lack of this was evident throughout the project.
- A change in behaviour is often the only way schools discover that a child’s parent has gone to prison. No one has responsibility for communicating such information and yet schools are often the place where children spend most of their time.
- There are tools and training available for professionals. However, their existence is not widely known.
- There is a range of free resources available for helping families tell their children and deal with the criminal justice and prison process, although courts remain particularly under-resourced.
The practice survey demonstrated that there are models of innovative and effective practice that can be replicated. In addition the research highlighted other models of practice from across the world.
- There are other models of practice in existence in Sweden, Australia and the United States some of which have been a success.
- The longitudinal comparative research between England and Sweden has demonstrated that support for children of prisoners can increase the chances of positive outcomes.
- There are campaigning organisations such as Action for Prisoners’ Families who promote the needs of children of prisoners, and produce excellent materials to support children and families.
- Organisations such as Kids VIP offer training to prison staff to enhance the children’s experience when visiting a prison.
- Work in Northern Ireland and Scotland demonstrates what can be achieved when children are at the heart of systems.
Regional and local
- There are good models of practice in several regions of England that could be replicated on a national level. These are run by the voluntary sector. They have unique approaches based upon local need. However, there are also several commonalities such as the importance of a multi-agency approach, the need to provide information to families, raise awareness and provide training to professionals in a position to offer support.
- Examples of good practice models can be found in the Thames Valley (Thames Valley Partnership and Banbury), Eastern region (Ormiston) and the Northwest (POPS).
- Models of multi-agency training have been developed in Devon and Cornwall (String of Pearls), and the Thames Valley (Thames Valley Partnership). These models could be rolled out nationally.
- In the West Midlands, NOMS have funded a pilot Families Do Matter programme to develop better services for children and families across the region.
The conclusions drawn from this project present a number of challenges to policy-makers, statutory and voluntary organisations. Any work carried out with families of prisoners cuts across all sectors and requires a multi-disciplinary approach in order to improve the outcomes for children affected by imprisonment. The next section contains a list of recommendations drawn from the findings and conclusions of the project fieldwork and research.