This informal CPD article ‘Parental Imprisonment’ was provided by Children Heard and Seen, a UK charity supporting children and families impacted by parental imprisonment in their own community.
In 2019 Crest Advisory published a report, Children of Prisoners: Fixing a Broken System; they estimated 312,000 children are impacted by parental imprisonment each year in England and Wales.
Why is it an estimate?
There is no statutory mechanism to identify children impacted by parental imprisonment although recognised as an ACE, parental imprisonment does not meet thresholds for social care involvement. If a primary carer is imprisoned children can be left alone and not only for a day, it could be for months. If asked there are reasons a parent may not disclose to a prison there are under 18 year old children at home, but this is why we cannot depend on disclosure when a parent is received into custody.
What are the harms?
Children impacted by parental imprisonment are more likely to underachieve in educational settings, engage in anti-social behaviour, experience poor mental health and are over-represented in youth offending/children in care settings. They can also experience shame/stigma/social isolation, bullying and negative community backlash as a result of the parents’ offending. Negative responses to a parents’ offending can mean assaults on the children or other parent and vigilante attacks on the family home.
Some families have to leave home and all that is familiar; some change their names to break links with the offending parent. The imprisonment of a parent can lead to children going into the care of family members they do not have strong relationships with. If a child relocates for safety they are not automatically granted a school place in the new area so may miss out on education. Sixty five percent of boys with a parent in prison go on to offend but it is unresolved trauma of parental imprisonment that impacts the life chances of children. Children may have no contact with the parent in prison but are still impacted by parental imprisonment.
What can we do?
Children Heard and Seen worked with Thames Valley Police and Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit on an innovative project, Operation Paramount, using real time data from the Ministry of Justice of those imprisoned from the Oxford area. This is compared to specifically designed datasets to identify where there are children in the family home of those imprisoned. The police visit the family and offer information about support that is offered by Children Heard and Seen. Children are identified early and support offered in a timely manner. This model has now been replicated by West Midlands Police and under a different model in South Wales.
This work is one method of identifying children, but we could do more. At a minimum, if all organisations that are a potential touch point for children were parental imprisonment curious and asked the right questions in an empathetic and non-judgemental way children and those caring for them may feel more confident to disclose. If children and their carers feel a disclosure will be met only with judgement we encourage the silence and the ongoing invisibility of children impacted by parental imprisonment.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Children Heard and Seen, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.