THE PRISON REFORM TRUST has issued an urgent call for better support for children affected by maternal imprisonment. As part of this call for action, the charity has published a new toolkit to help practitioners ensure these children are properly supported and listened to and their needs identified and met.

An estimated 17,000 children are impacted by maternal imprisonment every year but their needs are rarely considered when their mother is arrested, sentenced or sent to prison.

Co-created with children and young people with lived experience of having a mother in the criminal justice system, the “This Is Me” toolkit provides practical guidance to practitioners working with children affected by maternal imprisonment. It aims to ensure that the voices of children are heard and that they get the support they need at the earliest opportunity.

The toolkit has been informed throughout by the views and experiences of 28 children and young people with experience of a mother in the criminal justice system as well as 38 mothers.

Layla, who was 10 years old when her mother was arrested said: “There was just nothing; no one asked how [her and her siblings] were doing or what support we needed. Nothing.”

When her mother was sent to prison, there was no consideration of Layla’s welfare or that of her siblings. No one mentioned the children in any court proceedings, and no one asked who would be looking after the children. The children (the eldest was 14) were left to cope alone at home. It was only when the baby became gravely ill that the authorities were alerted.

The toolkit is the result of a 15-month consultation with practitioners, academics, and policy makers. It was produced by Prison Reform Trust Associate Sarah Beresford and funded by the Churchill Fellowship Activate Fund.

The toolkit is intended to support pilot projects to test and evaluate the use of Child Impact Assessments. The Child Impact Assessment is based around a set of open questions in child-friendly language which act as a framework for an ongoing conversation between the child and the practitioner. As well as listening to children, the aim is to help them identify what forms of support might be most helpful at any given time.

One child, contributing to the consultation said: “If I’d had set questions like these to ask me how I was feeling and how I was doing, it would’ve been a lot better for me…it would’ve really helped me.”

A support worker, contributing to the consultation said: “The Child Impact Assessment is a great way for the young people to feel like their views are being sought and voices heard. It allows them to share their feelings and ask any questions they may have.”

Sarah Beresford, Prison Reform Trust Associate said: “The children we consulted said they did not want more reports with yet more recommendations. They want action. For too long children with a mother in the criminal justice system have been at best ignored. This toolkit calls for a cross-sector step change and lays out the vision of how that can be achieved.”

* Read the Prison Reform Trust briefing What about me? The impact on children when mothers are involved in the criminal justice system here.

* Read “This is Me”: A Child Impact Assessment toolkit. Resources to support children with a mum in the criminal justice system here.

* Source: Prison Reform Trust