New resources highlight impact of maternal imprisonment on children

By agency reporter
February 1, 2018

It is estimated that 17,000 children every year are affected by maternal imprisonment in England and Wales, and 95 per cent (16,000) of these children are forced to leave their homes, as their mother's imprisonment leaves them without an adult to take care of them.

Despite this, no government agency has responsibility for ensuring the welfare of these children is safeguarded and their rights are protected. 

In an innovative partnership, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Oxford University and the Prison Reform Trust have come together to create new resources, including films and briefings, for criminal justice professionals to help improve their understanding of the impacts of maternal imprisonment.

Dr Shona Minson, a Research Associate at the Centre for Criminology at Oxford University has conducted research on the implications of maternal imprisonment for children. The study explored the lived experience of children whose mothers were in prison at the time of interview. It is thought to be the largest study of its kind that has been conducted in England and Wales, with members of 27 family groups taking part in the research, including 14 children, and 22 adults who were taking care of children during their mother's imprisonment.

The research findings show that the experience of having a mother in prison not only negatively impacts a child's relationship with their mother, but can affect every area of their lives including their education, health, and well being. The knock-on effects of stigmatisation may also lead to social isolation and discrimination. The work highlights the importance of considering child dependents and understanding the profound impact that maternal imprisonment can have on children who themselves have done nothing wrong. In the past week research from two other countries has been published indicating that parental imprisonment in childhood also contributes to premature death as an adult. 

Funded by the ESRC and supported by the Prison Reform Trust Transforming Lives programme, Dr Minson's research findings have been used to create information resources for all criminal justice professionals involved in adult sentencing decisions, to support sentencers' understanding of the impacts of maternal imprisonment on children.  

The resource includes short films and briefing papers, which will be used across the criminal justice professions including by the Judicial College, Magistrates Association, Law Society, Criminal Bar Association and Probation services.

Dr Minson said, "My research found that children whose mothers are sent to prison are not afforded any of the same protections or support which are applied to children separated from their parents within the family courts as a result of care proceedings. Children of imprisoned mothers face extremely challenging circumstances which impact not only upon their immediate situations but also their future life chances." 

It is hoped that these resources will ensure that all professionals involved in sentencing, have a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impacts on children if their mother is imprisoned, and this will enable children's welfare to be effectively safeguarded. 

Welcoming the new resources, Jenny Earle of the Prison Reform Trust said "Most of the solutions to women's offending lie in the community - and it is especially important where children are impacted that their best interests be considered and their voices be heard."

* Prison Reform Trust http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

* Economic and Social Research Council http://www.esrc.ac.uk/

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