With Christmas quickly approaching, most children are looking forward to opening presents at home with their family. But for the sons and daughters of the men and women serving time in prison, the festive season is tough. Kids with parents in jail often don’t get to spend Christmas Day with their mum or dad, and visiting a parent in prison can be traumatic – even when charities and others do their best to provide the support which is missing in the prison system and local services.
Here’s some more information about what hundreds of thousands of children will go through this year.
No Official Record of Children with Parents in Prison
Roughly 200,00 children are affected by parental imprisonment in England and Wales, and make almost 10,000 visits to jails every week. But there is no official record of children with parents in jail, because neither the courts, government nor local services operate a policy of routinely gathering this information.
Children with one or more parents in jail are twice as likely to experience mental health problems and less likely to do well at school. They’re also three times more likely to offend themselves; 65% of boys with a convicted father go on to commit crime. Kids with a parent in prison report feeling ashamed, isolated and unable to talk about what they’re going through for fear of being bullied or judged.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s has repeatedly called on the government to do more to support the children of prisoners. They believe there should be a minister responsible for ensuring that children are identified at the point of their parent’s conviction, and that courts should ensure adequate child care arrangements are in place. The charity believes that prison rules punish children – particularly the Earned Privileges scheme, under which some inmates who fail to show “positive and motivated behaviour” can only see their children for two hours every four weeks.
Barnardo’s Vice President Floella Benjamin said: “It should be a child’s right to visit their dad in prison, not for a dad to earn the right to see their child.
“Children massively struggle with the distress and confusion of having their father taken away.
“To then stop them spending a few precious hours with their dad simply traumatises them even further.”
Charities Doing Everything They Can for Families
Charities play an important role in alleviating the pressure on children and their parents at Christmas. This year, Nepacs is recruiting volunteers at HMP Durham, HMP Frankland and HMP Low Newton to help in visitors’ centres, tea bars and kids’ play areas. The charity’s volunteer coordinator Emma Price said: “The impact of imprisonment on children and families can be devastating and visiting court or prison for the first time can be quite difficult and sometimes distressing.
“Our volunteers offer a warm welcome and someone to chat to, which is particularly important for people who are going into the unknown and are facing a place and situation they may never have thought they would ever be in.”
Increasingly, prisons are also acknowledging the impact that parental imprisonment has on children, and a number of jails are running Christmas family days, including HMP Forest Bank and HMP Rye Hill. As we did last year (read the post about it here) Prison Phone will be donating selection boxes for the events held across the country for family days, to be given to children as a Christmas treat.
Claire (one of our account managers at Prisonphone) said “Last year we managed to donate just over 1000 selection boxes, however this year, we have wrapped and sent 3000! Helping the children who visit to enjoy their day just that little bit more we feel is extremely important.”