Children of prisoners
As we look to raise awareness for children of prisoners in schools nationally with our ‘My Hidden Sentence’ programme, company director Cat Sparkes reflects on our journey to this point; the inspirations behind the project and our determination to ensure that children with a parent in prison are identified and receive the support they need!
Around a year ago we formed a partnership with the fabulous team at Barnardos, Bristol. They opened our eyes to the huge number of children who are affected by having a parent or family member in prison.
“There are 200,000 children are affected by parental imprisonment across England and Wales” (www.barnardos.org.uk June 2014)
We were astounded to learn that there are no official systems in place to record how many prisoners are parents, and that there is no official process in place to recognise these hidden young people.
Barnardos are about to change this, and we are hugely proud to be a part of this movement.
Having never been inside a prison, we attended the ‘Hidden Sentence’ training course which is run by the Barnardos’ Bristol team at Horfield Prison. Here we gained an insight into what it could be like to visit someone in prison, and learnt about the impact this can have on a family.
It was a nerve-racking experience to visit the prison, even though the guards and reception staff were welcoming and polite to us, the unnecessary feeling of guilt and paranoia grew as we left our belongings in lockers and were searched.
We learnt how families often travel great distances to visit their relative, which is not only physically tiring but can also result in emotional stress and financial strain. Imagining a child going through this process was really quite shocking to us. Each child must goes through a roller-coaster of emotions – even those who have excellent support – scared, confused, upset, and real sadness for the parent in prison.
The project ‘My Hidden Sentence’ funded by Barnardos and the Quartet Community Foundation, was created to raise the awareness of children of prisoners to school teachers. We worked with a group of young people whom Barnardos support and heard about their personal experiences which inspired a new performance to engage the schools. This, accompanying all the vital information supplied by Barnardos and I-HOP (Information Hub on Offenders’ families with children for Professionals) proved to be a very successful and informative model.
It is absolutely imperative that there are strong, consistent systems in place to support these hidden children, the stigma that is attached to a parent going to prison is extremely damaging to children and can result in bullying, low self esteem and isolation.
We want to help raise awareness that the child of a prisoner has not committed a crime, they are their own person and deserve to be treated as such. If anything they need more support and friendship than others, they should not be sentenced to a life of judgment.
Join the campaign to make sure children with a parent in prison are identified and then they receive the support they need.