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Families affected by parental imprisonment

Families First Research Project

It is estimated that there are over 200,000 children of prisoners in the UK. What is the potential impact of parental imprisonment on families and what support is available?

Families First Research Project is a two-year study (2020 - 2022) examining the need for and impact of targeted Families First services to support children, young people and their families with a parent/carer in prison or about to be sentenced. Designed by Dr Victoria Cooper, Professor Jane Payler and Dr Stephanie Bennett in collaboration with YSS Families First lead practitioners, this study draws upon a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, including surveys, documentary analysis and in-depth interviews.

Stephanie Bennett

Victoria Cooper

Jane Payler

Families First services are part of a multi-agency collaboration in Worcestershire to identify and support families of prisoners.The long-term objectives of these services include the maintenance of housing, job and social connections within families, reduction in rates of adult re-offending and to reduce the risk of children and young people entering the youth justice service or being excluded from school.

Our research at the Children’s Research Centre evaluated the need for services such as Families First nationwide, and the nature of the service and its impact. In our report  we evidence the many ways in which Families First have supported families of prisoners.  However, not all parents, children and young people throughout the UK experiencing family imprisonment have access to services and support systems required to meet their complex needs. Furthermore, lack of awareness and social stigma surrounding family imprisonment threaten to perpetuate a cycle of social disengagement. Current provision within the criminal justice system focuses on supporting and rehabilitating the imprisoned adult and fails to consider much broader and intergenerational needs of families. Our research indicates that the type and quality of support that parents, children, and young people can access from Families First can provide a ‘lifeline’ of support which can make a considerable and positive difference to their lives.

Families First have produced a handbook to support families

Unfortunately, current provision for targeted support for parents/carers, children and young people experiencing family imprisonment is both inadequate and under-funded. The children and young people of today with imprisoned parents need support to help them to deal with the trauma and distress surrounding parental imprisonment, to continue to grow, and to engage fully in their education, relationships and futures. At present nationally, we don’t even know who they are.

The report,'From arrest to release, helping families to feel less alone’ was launched on June 29th 2023 in the Houses of Parliament. The event was sponsored by Caroline Nokes MP who gave the opening remarks.