Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties

Context, background and legislative overview

In this section:

There are numerous reports, guidance, legislation and documentation that cover improving outcomes for children. The group who lose a parent (or carer) to custody is a small but significant number who, for the most part, remain unnoticed and therefore unsupported. For many families this is exactly how they will want it to stay, as they are afraid of the repercussions and stigma that may result from disclosure.

Nevertheless, there is a duty of care and a duty to provide these children with the same opportunities for success as everyone else.

This section provides an overview of the context and core legislation affecting this group of children.

Number of children affected

Not every child of a parent in prison will come into contact with services. Indeed, the majority of the estimated 162,000 children will remain unknown (2). However, numbers of children affected are not officially recorded anywhere and statutory support will only be offered if a child is currently known and deemed to be at risk or in need (see Appendix 1 for detailed results of the local children safeguarding board questionnaire).

HM Prisons Inspectorate (3) found that:

This study was completed ten years ago and it is fair to assume that the overall numbers have increased, given the huge rise in the prison population. (3) Yet there remains no systematic way of collecting this information.


The literature review highlights the potential emotional impact for children, and while there is no conclusive evidence of the correlation between losing a parent to prison and the adverse effects on a child, it is acknowledged that the two are inextricably linked on several levels. These include poverty, poor educational attainment, social exclusion and mental health problems.

The obvious place for children to be noticed is in school. There are numerous resources available to teachers and other school staff to help them support children but, for the most part, these resources remain unknown and unused.

This resource is a way of bringing together everything that is available, making the information more accessible and raising awareness of a group of children whose numbers are increasing by the day.