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Families thrive thanks to prison project

This feature is about 9 years old

With an estimated 27,000 children in Scotland with a parent in prison, Paul Cardwell found out some of the work being done to make sure families are still able to thrive

For the past two years John has been detained at her Majesty’s pleasure in HMP Glenochil.

While the loss of his liberty is unwelcome, what has been even harder for this proud man is the feeling of not being able to be a father to his young son and a husband to his wife.

When John’s sentence began, his son Jamie was only six months old – the pair had had very little time to bond.

As Jamie grew older and developed a personality of his own, visits to the prison became harder as he would often be disruptive. John didn’t feel he could tell him off as he didn’t want to be the bad guy when he only saw him for a short time.

This put more pressure on John’s already struggling partner Angela and they felt the only way to make it easier was to force Jamie to sit in a high chair.

The visits give me a chance to take part in everyday activities with my son; he now calls me daddy when he sees me, which he never did before

In September 2014 the family were put in touch with Barnardo’s Thrive: To Succeed, Flourish project.

The project is a partnership with Perth and Kinross and Angus councils, Crossreach, Enable, NHS Tayside and the Scottish Prison Service. It works with children aged five years or under and their families who are affected by the imprisonment of one or both parents at Glenochil and Perth prisons.

Every family’s needs are different, but generally the project officers arrange family contact sessions outside of normal visiting hours for prisoners to get the chance to interact hands-on and bond with their children.

Family contact officers encourage the family to do things together, such as play, read, sing and eat together at the sessions.

They can also instruct about ways to discipline children and encourage mum and dad to work together to care for their child and grow as a family.

Glenochil Prison
Glenochil Prison

Part of the visits are also filmed and the prisoner can see the progress they are making with their child or children over a number of weeks.

Outside of the prison walls, project staff work with children and families in the community to open up lines of communication between services such as school, health and social work. Support to attend appointments is also provided through help with transport and emotional support, practical help is given on issues such as budgeting and finances.

The aim, particularly with the help of the Scottish Prison Service who has seconded a manager to Thrive, is to make sure that when the parent is released the transition for all members of the family is smoother. Thrive continues to help families after the parent has been released from jail.

The project has had a brilliant effect on John, Angela and Jamie who meet every Wednesday.

We know from our work with families that children affected by parental imprisonment are an extremely vulnerable group who often suffer in silence, unseen and unheard,

John, once worried about his lack of a bond with his son, is now looking forward to the future with his family.

“The most significant difference I have experienced is the bond I now have with my son which has been established and grown whilst in prison, this is as a result of the special attachment sessions,” John said.

“The visits give me a chance to take part in everyday activities with my son; he now calls me daddy when he sees me, which he never did before.

”The support from Barnardo’s Scotland Thrive has also taken the stress of travel off my partner; her travel time to the prison has been cut down by two hours and we also save around £100 in travel expenses each month.”

John and his family are just one of 30 families who have benefitted from Thrive, which began in the prison at the end of 2013.

The project recognises that when a parent is involved in the criminal justice system it can cause disruption not just to family life but also to the crucial bonding experience across the early years between parents and children.

Family visiting room
Family visiting room

Indeed, research suggests children affected by parental imprisonment are three times more likely to develop a significant mental health problem than children who do not have a parent in prison.

“We know from our work with families that children affected by parental imprisonment are an extremely vulnerable group who often suffer in silence, unseen and unheard,” said Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland.

“The Barnardo’s Scotland Thrive partnership, funded by the Scottish Government, has been working with families affected by imprisonment in Perth & Kinross and Angus and has early evidence that the support they provide both during prison visits and in the community has been extremely beneficial for the children and families they are working with.

“Improving and maintaining family ties is also an effective way of reducing re-offending and making communities safer.”

Speaking recently at an event where Barnardo’s showcased Thrive to its partners, Fiona McLeod MSP, acting minister for children and young people, said: “I am delighted the Scottish Government was able to fund Barnardo’s Thrive project to allow it to continue its important work for another year.

“I would like to congratulate Barnardo’s and their partners for supporting some of our most vulnerable families through the programme. We are committed to investing in early-years parenting programmes through our Early Years Change Fund because they can help break the cycle of inter-generational familial offending as well as improving life chances.

“As a public social partnership, this method of co-production allows the public and third sectors to work together to deliver services that are designed, tested and refined at a local level.”

Names have been changed to protect the identity of those featured.

Taking children into account in the courts

Families thrive thanks to prison project

It is not known how many children in Scotland are actually affected by parent imprisonment. The current estimate is 27,000but as there is no robust form of identification or assessment to record ifprisoners have children when they are jailed, it could be more.

This couldchange through the support for children (impact of parental imprisonment) billproposed by Labour MSP Mary Fee in February this year.Fee’sproposal is that at the time of sentencing a court should regard the impact ofchild parent prison parental custody upon the welfare and wellbeing of theoffender’s children; and to ensure that children affected by parentalimprisonment receive additional support as appropriate.

The proposal,which has just finished its consultation period, is supported by Barnardo’sScotland and other leading children’s charities including, NSPCC Scotland andFamilies Outside.

Barnardo’sbelieves the bill would provide support for a group of unseen, vulnerablechildren.

It would meanan immediate needs assessment is done for children when their parents aresentenced to custody and difficulties faced would be recognised within theeducation system and the appropriate level of support given to them should theybe assessed as having additional support needs.

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “The consultation period for Mary Fee MSP’s members bill, Support for Children (Impact of Parental Imprisonment) (Scotland) bill, has now ended and we understand the majority of responses
received have been very supportive.

“We hope that the proposals in the bill will receive support in the Scottish Parliament and lead to real improvement in the lives of children affected by parental imprisonment. We welcome comments from Fiona McLeod MSP, acting minister for children and young people, acknowledging parental imprisonment as an important issue and look forward to engaging with all parties in the coming months.

“We know fromour work with families that children affected by parental imprisonment are anextremely vulnerable group who often suffer in silence, are unseen and unheard.

“The ScottishGovernment has put a renewed focus on looking at radical ways to deal withfemale offenders, 66% of whom have children.

“We very muchhope that what appears to be a growing cross party consensus on this issue isused to ensure that children affected by parental imprisonment no longer haveto go unsupported and unrecognised.”