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New Children’s Research Centre report launched at Houses of Parliament

A parent and child hold hands through blue metal bars.

Not enough is being done across the UK to support parents, children and young people experiencing family imprisonment according to new research by The Open University’s Children’s Research Centre and Worcestershire charity YSS. 

Open University academics at the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, Dr Victoria Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Childhood and Youth, Jane Payler Professor of Education (Early Years) and Dr Stephanie Jane Bennett Psychology Associate Lecturer, were commissioned by YSS to evaluate their Families First project and assess the need for similar provisions across the UK. The report, ‘From arrest to release, helping families to feel less alone’, was launched in the Houses of Parliament with opening remarks from Caroline Nokes MP. 

The two-year study, surveying 68 families across the UK, specifically aimed to: investigate the extent of familial imprisonment across the UK, examine how the project functioned in Worcestershire, analyse the impact of the project on families and practitioners, raise awareness of the scale of need for easy to access provisions nationwide and lobby for policy change. 

The OU researchers, Dr Cooper and Dr Bennett and Professor Payler, said: 

“Estimates suggest that over 300,000 children are affected by parental imprisonment every year. Yet, most of those children do not have access to support services to help them to cope with the difficulties they face. We hope our report will highlight the need for national action to provide support to these families at the time they need it most.” 

Findings from the research has shown that the YSS Families First project has provided a ‘lifeline’ to families in need of support and has had a positive impact on their lives. However, this type of provision is underfunded and inadequate with many families across the UK having to go without the required support services needed. Findings also revealed that there is no formal system for tracking children and young people which leaves them vulnerable to safeguarding issues and disrupted childhoods. There are estimates suggesting that as many as 312,000 children are impacted by parental imprisonment every year however in actual fact, the number is not known. 

The report put forward several short and mid-term recommendations for consideration. These include: expanding Families First support nationally, notifying authorities that arrest and sentence people with children to help mitigate Adverse Child Experience and to collect data on the number of children and young people who are affected by family imprisonment to improve their access to required services. 

The research was recently launched at an event in the House of Commons, hosted by Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, and Chair of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee. 

Caroline Nokes, MP said: 

“What was very clear from the research was the profound impact parental imprisonment had on children.  Their stories were incredibly moving, and so evident they needed support, both when their parent was in prison and also in preparation for release.  I have subsequently raised some of the issues with the Prisons Minister and am pleased he is taking the issue seriously.” 

The launch was attended by an engaged audience of professionals in the prison system and policing, they heard from researchers from the OU and professionals at YSS who shared testimonials from those who had experienced familial imprisonment, including a young person who had faced a family member being arrested. The presenters shared the need to push for awareness to give children and young people the support they need to have brighter and better futures. 

Debb Grantham Managing Director of YSS said: 

“Families have told us that they feel confused, frightened, neglected, and judged when a family member goes to prison. They may not be in prison themselves, but they often feel they are also serving their own “hidden” sentence.  YSS Families First not only supports families, but also the professionals who have come into contact with them, who also struggle to navigate the complexities of a criminal justice system. In an ideal world every family should be able to access a Families First service and at YSS we continue to source funding for this valuable service.” 

Lia Palios-Hayden, Operations Manager at YSS said: 

Working alongside The Children’s Research Centre at The Open University has enabled us to champion and bring to the forefront the often-hidden voices of families affected by parental imprisonment. It has also allowed us to measure the impact of our service and provide a strong evidence base for funding an expansion of this support moving forward. Every family within the UK should have the opportunity to access this level of support and more focus needs to be placed on the effects of imprisonment on the family of prisoners, as well as the role families can provide in supporting rehabilitation of their loved one back into the community.” 

More information about the report can be found on the Children’s Research Centre website. 

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