The Children of Offenders

by Suzanne Perry, i-HOP

There are an estimated 200,000 children with a parent in prison in the UK[1]. There are even more who are affected by a parent or loved one’s involvement in other aspects of the criminal justice system (CJS) such as arrest, trial or community service for example. The majority of imprisoned parents are fathers, in fact, 7% of school age children will experience the imprisonment of their father in England and Wales[2]. However, there are specific consequences for the 17,240 children whose mothers go to prison[3], for example only 5% of them remain in the family home[4].

Research shows that the children of offenders and their families suffer poorer outcomes than their peers particularly in health, education and finances. For example, the children of prisoners are twice as likely to suffer mental health problems than their peers[5]. They are also more likely to experience physical illness[6]. At school, offender’s children are three times as likely to be involved in delinquent activity such as truanting, bullying and being bullied[7]. As families have to travel 60 miles on average to visit an imprisoned parent the costs involved with this (such as petrol and refreshments) can be great. This combined with extra costs such as prison phone call payments and a like equate to the estimated average monthly cost to the family of £175[8]. The risk of financial difficulties is heightened when the person who has gone to prison provided substantial income to the household.

As well as poor immediate outcomes for children and families of offenders, there are long term vulnerabilities faced by offenders’ children, for example, boys of imprisoned fathers are 65% more likely to go on to offend themselves[9].

The difficulties families often face can be exacerbated by the significant stigma felt by many families when a parent or loved one is involved in the CJS. This can be especially pertinent when the offence is sexual, committed against a child or when a mother goes to prison. Stigma can prevent families from talking about their problems or asking for support and therefore contribute to isolation – making it more of a challenge for agencies to identify and work with such families.

Yet despite the evidence about the negative impact of parental offending, there is no standard collection of information about who these children are, where they are, who is looking after them, what their needs are and what support they receive[10]. Because of this, and the stigma involved, the children and families of offenders can be seen as an ‘invisible’ group whose voices are not heard. This is something that organisations such as i-HOP, Barnardo’s and POPS (Partners of Prisoners Support Service) are working together to change.

i-HOP believes that professionals from all sectors (voluntary, education, health, CJS, etc) should have an awareness of and an ability to respond to the needs of children and families who are affected by a relative’s offending behaviour. To facilitate this, it is important for local authorities to have a strategic, multi-agency plan in place which may include rolling out training or incorporating children and families affected by parental offending into safeguarding and other protocols.

To help make these ideas reality, the DfE currently funds Barnardo’s and POPS to run i-HOP, a one stop information service for professionals who work with the children and families of offenders. i-HOP’s online directory (www.i-hop.org.uk) holds over 500 pieces of research and policy, funding opportunities, training events , practical resources and much more to help support professionals to work with these children and families. The freephone helpline (0808 802 2013) is available during office hours and provides support and information to professionals. The i-HOP service also provides direct engagement work with local authorities to support them in developing strategies and practice around the children and families of offenders. For more information about direct engagement work please contact i-hop@barnardos.org.uk.

[1] Kim Williams, Vea Papadopoulou and Natalie Booth (2012), Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners, Ministry of Justice

[2] Department for Education and Skills (2003), Every Child Matters, London: The Stationery Office

[3] Wilks-Wiffen, S. (2011) Voice of a Child, London: Howard League for Penal Reform

[4] Home Office (2000) Women prisoners: a survey of their work and training experiences in custody and on release. Home Office Research Study 208

[5] Joseph Murray, David P. Farrington, Ivana Sekol and Rikke F. Olsen, Effects of parental imprisonment on child antisocial behavior and mental health: a systematic review, The Campbell Collaboration, University of Cambridge, September 2009

[6] Rowntree Smith R, Grimshaw R, Romeo R, Knapp M (2007), Poverty and disadvantage among prisoner’s families, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[7] SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) (2008), Guide 22 Children of Prisoners; Maintaining Family Ties, http://www.scie.org.uk

[8] Rowntree Smith R, Grimshaw R, Romeo R, Knapp M (2007), Poverty and disadvantage among prisoner’s families, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[9] Joseph Murray, David P. Farrington, Ivana Sekol, Rikke F. Olsen (2009), Effects of parental imprisonment on child antisocial behaviour and mental health: a systematic review, Campbell Systematic Reviews 2009:4

[10] Ministry of Justice and Department for Children, Schools and Families, Children of Offenders Review, June 2007

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