Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
The following recommendations have evolved from the findings in the literature review and fieldwork. Implementing these recommendations is essential to ensuring that family ties are maintained and that the children who are affected by having a parent in prison are given the same opportunity as other children to meet the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. These children have a right to be safe, to achieve, to be healthy, to achieve economic well-being and to make a positive contribution. The recommendations are arranged according to sector and government department. Finally, there is also a set of recommendations on themes that cut across all sectors, once again highlighting the need for a multi-disciplinary response.
Department for Children, Schools and Families
- Recognise this is a distinct group of children who are at higher risk of social exclusion than the general population and so require specialist policies and support.
- Consider the impact on children from black and minority ethnic groups and their particular cultural needs.
- Consider the development of policies to record information on children affected.
- Develop guidelines on the children of prisoners for organisations on what information can be shared, with whom and when.
- Provide guidance and clarity on the roles and responsibilities of different organisations, such as statutory children’s services, in supporting children of prisoners.
- Consider the development of a performance indicator in this area of work, with attached funding.
Local safeguarding children boards
- Use the multi-disciplinary membership to raise the profile of this group of children, and monitor outcomes, perhaps based upon the model of the Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels Agreement (MAPPA).
- Support the development and implementation of formal policies and procedures rather than reliance on good-will.
- Ensure boards have representation from local prisons where applicable.
- Schools should be seen as integral to the process supporting children of prisoners and appropriate training and awareness-raising should be undertaken in all schools.
- Schools should identify a member of staff with responsibility for liaison and development of relationships with local prisons and probation.
- Schools should ensure training is offered to all educational staff on the common assessment framework to enable staff to access assessments for children of concern.
- Schools should involve the imprisoned parent in a child’s schooling, for example, send in reports on progress.
- Children excluded from school will still require support if they have a parent in prison, and schools should ensure appropriate liaison with other organisations to ensure it is in place.
Statutory children’s services
- Promote training and awareness-raising about the impact of parental imprisonment. There should be links to continuing professional development (CPD) for staff.
- Training should also be undertaken by staff to improve their knowledge of the criminal justice system. This would give staff more confidence in working with children who have been affected.
- Training programmes have been developed for foster carers (Ormiston) and should be incorporated into their training cycle.
- The particular needs of this group should be incorporated by local authorities into their children and young people’s plans.
- There should be a greater awareness of Chapter 19 of the children centre guidance, which specifically addresses the needs of the children of prisoners, and the implications for practice; consideration should be given to employing a dedicated worker who can develop the links.
- Protocols should be developed with the voluntary sector organisations who currently work with children of prisoners to enable better signposting of information and support.
- Care leavers were identified as of particular concern: better collaboration across services is needed to support the transition of a young person to adult services, with regard to the fact that having a parent in prison can make them more vulnerable to mental health problems, unemployment and more likely to offend.
- Care plans for looked after children should specify actions for children to keep in contact with parents, and specify where the funding will come from to enable it to happen.
- Ensure that the needs of children of prisoners are specifically stated in looked after children’s procedures, and in training for social workers and foster carers.
National Offender Management Service and Ministry of Justice
- Develop systems to enable prisoners to be placed nearer home for the duration of their sentence, given the impact family ties have on reducing re-offending.
- Consider how best to implement the children and families pathway to ensure consistency of approach and better outcomes across the country.
- Encourage better communication and liaison across service boundaries, for example between the probation service and health and social care staff.
- At present there is little information for families in many of the courts across the country. There is a need for a better system of providing information at such a critical time.
- Ensure information about children is collected from prisoners upon arrival.
- Develop systems to decrease the need to move people around the prison estate and place them nearer to home.
- Consider the need for more flexible visiting hours (so children do not necessarily have to miss school) and a simplified booking system that is consistent across the estate, to assist families in making visits.
- Provide appropriate training to staff on improving the experience of prison-visiting for children.
- Consider the environment and the impact it may have on children, with a view to developing more child-friendly facilities.
- Consider the need for greater consistency across the country in prisons and across the agencies involved.
- Inform children’s services when parents are completing parenting programmes.
- Prison family contact and development officers (Scotland) and family support officers (Northern Ireland) to be available in all prisons and their role included in the task line so that they are not therefore expected to carry out other responsibilities. Appropriate training and support should be offered.
- Prisons should provide child-friendly visiting areas, child-centred visits, family days, Storybook Dads and parenting courses in all establishments.
National probation service
- Undertake training on the roles and responsibilities of other agencies outside of the criminal justice system. This would enable more effective information-sharing with other sectors.
- Probation officers should be aware of the importance of maintaining family ties in the rehabilitation of offenders as it is known to reduce the risk of re-offending.
- Training to encourage more professionals to make use of the common assessment framework for when they have concerns about children. The assessment can be initiated by anyone who has concerns.
- Training to raise awareness of the issues facing the children of prisoners, particularly for GPs and practice nurses, midwives and health visitors.
- Staff should be encouraged to work across service boundaries, such as probation and the voluntary sector to enable appropriate exchange of information.
- Develop mechanisms to evaluate existing practice.
- Develop and promote training to encourage more professionals to make use of the common assessment framework for when they have concerns about children. The assessment can be initiated by anyone who has concerns.
- Families should be involved in the design, development and delivery of core services for families of prisoners.
- Criminal justice legislators should be taking into account the impact on families when considering sentencing.
- Relevant government departments should collaborate far more, to reduce the conflict between criminal justice and social care legislation.
- Service level agreements need to cover movements between prisons to ensure families are still able to receive the support they need.
- Systems need to be made available across the prison estate with the cooperation of other sectors in the community so that families can be identified and offered support at the earliest opportunity.
- Social exclusion, poverty and deprivation are pertinent issues that need to continue to be addressed by the Social Exclusion Task Force's ‘Think Family’ review.
- Models of good practice exist and consideration should be given to replicating these on a regional basis (for example, the good practice seen in Northern Ireland).
- Existing practice requires evidence and evaluation in order to determine a positive impact for children according to the five Every Child Matters outcomes.
- Seek comparative longitudinal research between cohorts in England and other countries to assess causal links and long term effects of parental imprisonment on families.
- Training to encourage more professionals to make use of the common assessment framework for when they have concerns about children. The assessment can be initiated by any one who has concerns from any sector.