What? Who? Children of prisoners? If you thought anything along the lines of, “Gosh I’ve never even thought about the children”, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common responses I get when I tell people my passion is supporting children with a mum or dad in prison.
It is currently estimated that there are around 312,000 children in the UK impacted by parental imprisonment each year. These children are innocent victims of a crime they did not commit, yet suffer a plethora of punishments supposedly directed at the offender.
For more than a decade, I have supported children who have been impacted by parental imprisonment; caring, bright, loving children, full of potential. However, the trauma they have suffered means they are crying out for specialised support, support which barely exists.
Children in their position suffer a whole host of challenges including extreme separation anxiety, worry about their parent’s well-being, difficult prison visits or no contact at all, loneliness, social isolation, confusion and self-blame.
Since working, many years ago, as a researcher inside prisons, I soon realised that there was practically no support for the children of prisoners out in the community. I found bereavement support groups, but their parents were not dead and the children did not belong here. Instead they were suffering with ambiguous loss, a loss without closure or understanding. A loss that brought them no sympathy; only fear and shame.
Over time, I was able to set up a small service, bringing together children of all ages in peer support groups where they could talk freely about their experiences without judgement. However, funding for these children is not easy to come by. Despite the obvious benefits not only to these children but the whole of society of helping them cope with such a huge trauma in their early years, (a safer society and a huge saving for tax payer when these children do not grow up to depend on health services), people generally do not dig deep for a prisoner’s child.
Nonetheless, I have been utterly encouraged by the children I have met who do not only want to help themselves, but want to help one another and have viable solutions and ideas on how they can survive and even thrive from this adverse experience, if only they had a little more help to do so.
Having attended many children of prisoners’ conferences over the years, I started to feel frustrated that we were speaking for children when the children I have met are more than capable of speaking for themselves. I therefore strongly assert, that with the ever-rising growth in numbers of children affected, it is now time to hear directly from these young people, who are tired of being ignored, hidden, and shamed for something they did not do.
I approached one of the few other children of prisoner’s support services, the award winning charity, Children Heard and Seen, to gain backing for my idea, and together we are delighted to be hosting “Our Time to be Heard”, the first prisoner’s children conference of its kind! 36 brave children impacted by parental imprisonment from around the UK will now come together to give key note speeches, and hold discussion groups and bring their stories and solutions to the attention of MPs, senior civil servants and policymakers.
This event is led by Dr Lorna Brookes (The MyTime Project and Liverpool John Moores University, and will be co-hosted by Children Heard and Seen, in Westminster on Friday, 14 June, 2019 at 10:30am-3.30pm.