Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
This section describes how the project was carried out and the rationale for the choice of methodology. The following methods were employed:
- advisory group
- scope and literature review
- structured questionnaire
- focus groups
- additional field work.
The research was underpinned by the involvement of a strong multi-agency advisory group invited to take part in directing the project and imparting vital knowledge. The advisory group contains key representatives from a range of statutory and voluntary organisations, government departments and academic representation. For a list of participants please refer to the Acknowledgements.
The first stage of the project involved carrying out a comprehensive scope to identify relevant research literature. This was completed in August 2006 and covered literature over the last fifteen years. The scope assessed a range of key social care databases and journals from the UK and the United States for information, including the following: ASSIA, Social Care Online, ChildData, IBSS, PsychInfo, SIGLE, SSCI, SSA, SWA, SocAbs, SOSIG, National Library for Health, British Journal of Criminology, British Journal of Psychiatry, British Journal of Social Work, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Clinical Social Work Journal, Journal of Adolescence, Journal of Criminal Justice, Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, The Psychologist, Social Policy and Society, Sociological Research, Youth and Society, The National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Women's Studies International Forum, Research on Social Work Practice, The Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Psychiatric Bulletin, Probation Journal, Community Care, Criminal Justice Abstracts.
In addition to searching journals and databases, various organisations and websites were assessed for relevant literature. These included the Department of Health, Department for Children, Schools and Families, The Prison Service, National Offender Management Service, Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Board, Probation Service, NHS – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Government Social Research Unit.
The scope returned a total of 296 references. These were key-worded according to the following subsets:
- good practice
- mother–baby unit
- key document
- Northern Ireland
- residential care
- statistics, support
It is acknowledged that the scope was by no means able to cover all existing literature, but it provided a base to begin the literature review. Further relevant documents were added to the review via project contacts, the advisory board and additional internet searching.
The scope results were used to design the questionnaire that was sent to all local children safeguarding boards in England, with a view to building up a national picture. Ethical approval from the Association of Directors of Social Services was received.
The local children safeguarding boards were targeted for the following reasons:
- “Children can only be safeguarded properly if the key agencies work effectively together. Local safeguarding children boards are designed to help ensure that this happens…the core membership of Local Safeguarding Children Boards is set out in the Children Act 2004, and includes local authorities, health bodies, the police and others. The objective of the Boards is to coordinate and to ensure the effectiveness of their member agencies in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children” (1).
- This is an issue that requires a multi-agency response and which crosses the traditional boundaries of service provision. The board has a role in coordinating that response and so it seemed appropriate to focus our research upon these groups rather than children’s services exclusively.
- It was important to raise this issue with boards in the hope that, if there was no provision locally, it would at least trigger some thought about the needs of these children and increase awareness of the need to take action.
There are 150 boards in England and a total of 32 replies were received. This equates to a sample of 21 per cent. Several questionnaires received some months after the deadline highlighted practice worth investigating. However, the information was received too late for the timeframe of this project. See Appendix 1 for a copy of the questionnaire and detailed responses.
From a combination of information from the advisory group and the results from the local children safeguarding board questionnaires, a list of practice sites were highlighted. Focus groups were held at these locations and a structured range of questions were used. The focus group questions can be found in Appendix 2, responses can be found in Appendix 3 and a list of participants in Appendix 4.
The focus groups demonstrate a continuum of awareness and practice as described below:
- little or no practice but awareness of the
needs of this group of children
- Halton Borough, Runcorn
- emerging practice
- established practice
- Parents of Prisoners’ support service, Manchester and Northwest
- Norwich and Eastern region
- Northern Ireland
The focus groups contained a mix of multi-agency representatives from probation, prison, health, education, voluntary sector, young offending teams and social care.
Themes covered were:
- policies and procedures
- links with prisons
- challenges and obstacles
- lessons for practice.
Each focus group took two to three hours and comprised between five and 15 representatives.
The following prisons were visited and discussions held with prison governors and/or visitor centre staff. The prisons were chosen because they have specified family days and visiting areas.
- HMP Norwich
- HMP Gloucester
- HMP Maghaberry.