150 years of hope – a spotlight on children affected by parental imprisonment

Childrens_Commissioner.jpgAs Spurgeons fast approaches it’s 150th birthday, we’ll be highlighting our work with vulnerable children and families and our 150 years of hope for every child.

Here, in the first of a series of guest blogs, Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, talks about making life better for children with a parent in prison.   

As Children’s Commissioner I speak up for all children in England and particularly the most vulnerable.  I champion the interests of many groups of children who have difficulties in their lives and often those whose difficulties are in some way hidden or overlooked. Children with parents in prison are one of those groups. The best estimate is that there are around 200,000 children with a parent in prison, and that children make 10,000 visits to prisons each year. 

Outcomes for children with parents inside tend to be worse than for their peers. Research suggests that prisoners’ families are more likely to experience poverty and debt and that children with a parent in prison are significantly more likely to go to prison themselves. The children of prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions and many will feel lonely and isolated and not know how to get help.

Earlier this week we met with Spurgeons and other organisations that do important work with children who have a family member in prison. They reported that children with a parent in prison can often feel stigmatised in their schools and communities, and said that there was a need for public health, education and social care services to collectively help.

The Government recently announced that prison governors will be given responsibility for developing services so that prisoners can build and keep family ties which is very welcome.  A soon to be published report following a review by Lord Farmer is also expected. The review has been collecting evidence on the positive impact that strong relationships between children and their parent in prison can have on encouraging good behaviour in prison and on reducing reoffending.

So how can we make this difficult situation better for children?  Good visitor facilities for families is a good start – with family support workers to help children and their families through these challenging times. Better information and understanding from schools to acknowledge the tough time the child is having and offer additional support with lessons and in the wider classroom can also have a real impact. 

Ultimately, it is the quality of the relationship between the parent and child that makes the difference and that’s why parent classes, reading schemes and family sessions all need to become part of the prison of the modern prison.

To find out more about our work with children affected by imprisonment click here.

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