Support for Children with Imprisoned Parents

Sara Spinks 29 February 2024 2 min read
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The impact of parental imprisonment on children can be profound and long-lasting. Recognising the need to address this issue, a new resource pack has been launched in Wales to support Welsh schools in assisting children with a parent in prison.

Developed by Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) in collaboration with two schools in Wales, a new toolkit aims to remove the stigma associated with parental imprisonment and provide teachers with the necessary resources to support affected children.

According to an estimate from the National Information Centre on Children of Offenders, 310,000 children every year have a parent in prison in England and Wales with 10,000 visits made by children every week. The impact can be particularly acute when mothers are incarcerated, as they are often the primary caregivers.

The challenges faced by children with imprisoned parents are numerous and varied. These difficulties can range from emotional and psychological distress to practical issues such as changes in living arrangements and financial instability. Without adequate support, these children may be at greater risk of experiencing difficulties later in life, including mental health issues, homelessness, and poverty.

The newly launched toolkit equips teachers with a range of resources designed to facilitate open and constructive discussions about parental imprisonment in the classroom. By fostering understanding and empathy among students, the toolkit aims to create a supportive environment where affected children feel comfortable seeking help and support. It provides guidance on how to address the issue sensitively and effectively while also encouraging students to support their peers who may be going through a challenging time.

Rocio Cifuentes, the Children's Commissioner for Wales, has welcomed the initiative, emphasising every child's right to reach their full potential. She stressed the importance of breaking down the stigma associated with parental imprisonment and praised the toolkit for its potential to facilitate conversations and support for affected children.

Assistant Head Teacher, Jacquie O'Toole, of Gwersyllt CP Primary School, one of the two Welsh schools that helped develop the toolkit, emphasised the impact of parental imprisonment on students' well-being and academic performance. She highlighted the need for teachers to receive adequate information and guidance to effectively support affected children, thereby mitigating the adverse effects of parental incarceration on their education and overall well-being.

As the prison population in England & Wales reaches an all-time high, research published by Pact, sheds light on the hidden struggles prisoners' families and loved ones face. The study titled ‘Serving a Hidden Sentence’ reveals the financial hardship and emotional strain experienced by families affected by imprisonment.

The survey findings paint a stark picture of the challenges endured by these families, many of whom are already grappling with low incomes and the rising cost of living. A significant number of respondents expressed concerns about affording basic necessities for themselves and their children, with some spending a quarter or more of their household income to support a loved one in prison. Furthermore, the loss of a partner's income and the additional costs associated with maintaining contact and support create a 'double whammy' effect, exacerbating financial strain.

However, the harms of imprisonment extend far beyond financial difficulties. The survey reveals that families also face social stigma, with many respondents experiencing deteriorating mental and physical health as a result. Despite the critical role that family ties play in reducing reoffending rates, more than half of the families surveyed reported difficulties staying in touch with their incarcerated loved ones due to financial constraints.

While recent announcements of measures to reduce the prison population are promising, the reality remains that record numbers of families and children are currently enduring the consequences of imprisonment. By prioritising support for prisoners' families and maintaining family ties, policymakers can take significant strides toward reducing reoffending rates and fostering safer communities.

Amidst the hidden sentences faced by prisoners' families, initiatives like the newly launched resource pack for Welsh schools provides welcome support. It is necessary to address the stigma associated with parental imprisonment and provide practical support to ensure that children affected by imprisonment are not left behind. I t is hoped that access to the toolkit will be extended to schools in England at some point in the future.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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