A pioneering partnership hopes to establish a network of school support for children affected by parental imprisonment.
The aim is to prevent vulnerable young people from suffering their own ‘hidden sentence’ and to break the cycle of offending which can be passed from one generation to the next.
Primary and secondary schools are being encouraged to provide ‘champions’ who would be a source of confidential support for children.
Figures show 200,000 children in England and Wales are affected by parental imprisonment each year.
The new scheme is being developed by HMP Erlestoke custodial manager Nick Howard who is currently on secondment to Barnardo’s.
The charity already manages a visitor centre at the prison which helps to maintain family links. Research has shown that creating and encouraging healthy family contact can reduce the likelihood of reoffending by up to six times.
Nick said: “Crimes deserve to be punished, but people are often surprised by the hidden harm which is caused to the children.
“They’ve done nothing wrong but they feel alienated by society. Their behaviour may become difficult and demanding, their confidence can be crushed and their schoolwork can suffer, which has huge implications for their future prospects.
“Sometimes the parents don’t realise this until it’s too late and the damage has already been done.
“Almost two-thirds of boys with a father in prison also go on to commit offences.”
School champions could include headteachers, teaching assistants or catering staff.
Volunteers spend half a day at HMP Erlestoke to learn more about prison life and experience the visit from a family’s point of view, as well as attending workshops on how to support children.
Schools will then be invited to display posters with the details of their local champion and how to get in touch.
Nick said: “Some teachers may be worried about the impact of the posters on the image of their school, but the posters should be seen as powerful evidence that the school is socially aware, fully inclusive and puts the needs of children above all else.
“Unexplained absences could be because the child is actually visiting a parent in prison but they can’t bring themselves to tell anyone. They’re left to suffer in silence.
“One secondary school suggested such a scheme wasn’t necessary because they had no children of prisoners among more than a thousand pupils, whereas estimates suggest seven per cent of children will be affected during their school life.
“People are shocked when they realise the extent of the problem.”
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