New bill aims to support children of offenders

Cornton vale cropped

Charities welcome new bill which gives opportunity to examine the impact of having a parent in prison

Paul Cardwell's photo

5th February 2015 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

Leading children’s charities have welcomed a bill which proposes to offer more support for children who have a parent in prison.

Barnardo’s Scotland, NSPCC Scotland and Families Outside praised Labour MSP Mary Fee’s Support for Children (Impact of Parental Imprisonment) bill.

They believe it will provide support for a group of “unseen, vulnerable children” by introducing new needs assessments for children when a parent is sentenced to custody.

It will also ensure that the difficulties faced by children with a parent in prison are recognised at school and the appropriate level of support given to them should they be assessed as having additional support needs.

The impact of parental imprisonment on children is significant, the charities say.

By recognising the specific needs of children with a parent in prison, and their care givers, the best possible support can be provided to ensure consistent care and a healthy, happy start in life

It is estimated that there are 27,000 children in Scotland who have a parent in prison.

One in every three of those develops a significant mental health problem compared with one in ten children in the general population.

Nancy Loucks, chief executive of Families Outside, said creating a systematic way of identifying families affected and measuring the impact of a parent being imprisoned has been a long time coming.

She said: “Child and family impact assessments have been recommended by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People since 2007; by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2011; and endorsed by Together Scotland, SCCYP, and Families Outside in 2012.  A growing number of the judiciary have also expressed their support for impact assessments. 

“Families Outside looks forward to this opportunity to question the impact of imprisonment on the remaining children and families; to explore what a meaningful assessment process might look like; and to ensure appropriate actions are taken to mitigate the negative impact on children and families.”

The Barnardo’s Scotland Thrive partnership, funded by the Scottish Government, has already been working with families affected by imprisonment in Perth and Kinross and Angus and has early evidence that the support they provide both during prison visits and in the community has been extremely beneficial for the children and families they are working with.

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland said: “The Scottish Government has put a renewed focus on looking at radical ways to deal with female offenders, 66% of whom have children. 

“We very much hope that what appears to be a growing cross party consensus on this issue is used to ensure that children affected by parental imprisonment no longer have to go unsupported and unrecognised.”

Matt Forde, head of service for NSPCC Scotland, added: “This bill marks an important step forward in improving the life experiences of this vulnerable group. 

“By recognising the specific needs of children with a parent in prison, and their care givers, the best possible support can be provided to ensure consistent care and a healthy, happy start in life.”