Children with family members in prison

It is estimated that approximately 3% of children (so potentially one child in every average class of 30 children / young people) have a parent in prison, whilst there are others who have some other family member in prison.  There is however no formal record of who these children are and whether they are receiving support, often meaning that they are a hidden cohort.  There can be many barriers to children and young people telling us that they have a family member in prison, for example shame, stigma and embarrassment.  You may find that children have been told that their family member is “staying away”, therefore not knowing the true reason as to why that person is not around.

Impact of having a parent in prison

When it is a parent in prison, children and young people can feel isolated and ashamed.  They may have been told not to talk about the situation, or may not know the words to use in order to tell friends and others in the family what has happened and how they are feeling.  If the crime was serious in nature, there is the potential that other families will know what has happened and the child / young person could have to live with the resultant embarrassment.

FREE Parents in prison poster

This downloadable resource raises the profile of safeguarding for your staff team. For use in staff rooms, on safeguarding boards or on the back of toilet doors the poster includes tips, a space for local contact details together with a link and QR Codes to this resource page.

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Children's worries

  • Feelings of not being listened to
  • Parent placed in prison a long way from home / support networks
  • Poor coping mechanisms
  • Additional issues around fear / anger / confusion
  • Effect of ‘prisoner’ label on the child/young person

Always consider – how could we support this young person?

What else might they have seen?

Where a child or young person has a parent or other close family member in prison, they may have been witness to or involved in the act(s) that had led to the prison sentence.  The Police may have raided the home, there may be gang involvement, substance misuse, parental mental ill health or domestic abuse.  We therefore need to remain open minded as to what issues may be impacting on the child or  young person in front of us.

Supporting children

Children with a family member in prison may be experiencing a range of emotions including loss, anger, upset, confusion and guilt, particularly if the person in prison is their parent.  This may also bring conflict – e.g. their parent is still their parent but they are in prison.  As professionals we need to understand what the child has been told and support them around this.

Resources

  • Are you a young person with a family member in prison?

    Aimed at children and young people aged 10 years plus with a family member in prison. Explores some of the issues young people may face throughout the offender journey such as, keeping in touch, telling friends, and what to do at school. It includes quotes from young people who have a parent in prison, and a list of useful helplines and organisations.

  • Children Heard and Seen

    Link to webpage of Children Heard and Seen who support children, young people and their families who are impacted by parental imprisonment. It is estimated that 312,000 children each year have a parent in prison, although there is no database of who these children are and whether they are receiving support. As the prison population continues to rise, so does the number of children impacted.