Monday 3 June, marks the start of European Prisoners’ Children Week. Every year more children are separated from a parent by prison than by divorce and the government is failing in its duty of care for them says an alliance of charities across the UK calling for change.
Action for Prisoners’ Families and the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact) supported by The Prison Reform Trust, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Caritas Social Action Network and NEPACS are unveiling a joint Agenda for Action, calling on the government to reduce the harm caused to children by parental imprisonment.
In 2013 a pan-European study led by the University of Huddersfield in the UK documented the huge impact of parental imprisonment on children’s mental health adding to previous evidence that parental imprisonment leads to poor outcomes for children whose educational attainment will suffer and are three times more likely than their peers to go on to offend.
The government’s own research shows that re-offending rates are dramatically reduced if prisoners can stay in contact with their families during their sentences. Yet still there is no reliable information collected on the children of prisoners and there is no statutory body with clear responsibility for supporting prisoners’ children.
The charities also warn that bureaucratic problems affecting the family visiting system are so serious they contribute to children losing contact with their parents.In recent years the number of prison visits has fallen despite an increasing prison population.
Seven per cent of children will see a parent imprisoned during their school years and around 200,000 children a year have a parent sent to prison. This is around two and half times the number of children in care, and over six times the number of children on the Child Protection Register. Children of prisoners also have about three times the risk for mental health problems compared to their peers and experience higher levels of social disadvantage.
The charities are calling on the UK Government and Welsh Government to implement a three point Agenda for Action for prisoners’ children.
No Child Left Behind: Family Impact Assessments
– Assessments of impact on offenders’ and prisoners’ children at all stages of the criminal justice process and practice that supports their wellbeing.
– Children’s Advocates: Ensuring that the rights of prisoners’ children are upheld.
– All prisons should ensure that there is an independent Children’s Advocate responsible for ensuring the rights of children are respected in every establishment.
A Voice in Government
Government commitment and annual reports on cross-departmental working, including key stakeholders, to implement the UN Universal Periodic Review recommendation on the rights of offenders’ children. During their sentence 45 per cent of people lose contact with their families and many separate from their partners. Home Office research has found that maintaining good quality family contact has a significant impact on the successful resettlement of, and likelihood of re-offending by, ex-prisoners. Prisoners who received visits from their family were twice as likely to have employment on release and three times more likely to have accommodation arranged as those who did not receive any visits.
Launching European Prisoners’ Children Week in England and Wales Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of the Prison Advice & Care Trust, said: “Prisoners’ children are the innocent hidden victims of crime, and are far more vulnerable than other children to becoming involved in crime in later life. Our campaign is based on the premise that when the state locks up a child’s parent, it has a duty of care to the child. We are challenging the government to work with us to develop a compassionate and rational response to meeting the needs of children of prisoners.”
Debbie Cowley, Director of Action for Prisoners’ Families, said: “Every year 200,000 children experience the imprisonment of a parent and yet at no stage in the process are their needs considered. Today we are calling on the government to act and implement child impact assessments throughout the criminal justice system to ensure all children have their rights respected by the police, courts and prison service.”
By agency reporter for http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18469