Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Action for Prisoners’ Families

Action for Prisoners’ Families written evidence for the Children and Families Bill

Action for Prisoners’ Families (APF) is a charity that works for the welfare of prisoners’ and offenders’ families across England and Wales. As a MoJ infrastructure organisation for all those interested in the well-being of prisoners’ families, with 1700 members, we represent family members, front line service providers, policy makers and others from the voluntary, statutory and private sectors. APF brings together experience and expertise from all specialisms so that lessons can be learned, gaps in services identified and good practice shared. APF facilitates partnership working, provides access to its network of members, disseminates information, publishes resources, pilots innovative services and offers training and quality assurance tools so that all sectors are supported to recognise and meet the needs of offenders’ families.

Foster for adoption (Clauses 1&6)

Whilst we understand the Government’s intention to minimise disruption for children and babies, by enabling them to form secure attachments as early as possible we are concerned that clauses 1& 6 will have a negative impact on the children of prisoners

Clause 1 states that as soon as a local authority is considering adoption as a possibility for a looked after child they must consider placing the child with a local authority foster carer and are no longer required to place the child within the local authority’s area. In addition to this local authorities are no longer required to give preference to placing the child with a suitable parent or family member over other potential placements with unrelated carers.

Prisoners’ children may have been well cared for until their local authorities have to make care arrangements on the incarceration of a parent who is the child’s sole or primary carer. On release these children should have the opportunity to return to their parents’ care but even where this is not possible, family care is the best alternative. APF are concerned that there will be a risk of an increase in children being unnecessarily caught up in the care system and urge that local authorities should retain a duty to place a looked after child with wider family members to avoid separation. Placing children with an imprisoned parent into foster care and outside their home locality may result in the severance of family ties. This separation is likely to reduce the children’s resilience. In contrast, retaining the duty for local authorities to give preference to placing prisoners’ children in the care of a suitable parent, family member or friend is likely to result in positive outcomes. There will also be the added advantage both long and short term, of stability, a positive sense of identity and attachment, particularly if a child cannot be returned to their parents.

Clause 6 allows the local authority to place a looked after child on the Adoption and Children Act Register to help find suitable adopters. With the shortage of foster carer and adopters and the 4,600 [1] children currently authorised and waiting to be placed for adoption APF are concerned that a significant number of the 200,000 [2] children in England and Wales affected by imprisonment in any one year will enter and become unnecessarily caught up in the care system, damaging their already compromised life chances. The clause may also result in potentially suitable family carers being squeezed out as option for care. A duty should be placed on local authorities to use early intervention methods to help these vulnerable children. Through the use of early interventions [3] vulnerable families are able to get the guidance they need to address and overcome their problems; local authorities will also be able to ensure that suitable family placements are prioritised before foster for adoption placements are considered. Strong family ties also help to reduce re-offending by the parents [4] .

Where there is no alternative and children are to be adopted, prisons should be required to make proper arrangements for parents to have a private farewell visit which is not always the case currently.

Work with families pre-proceedings

Whilst we welcome this new clause it is important to offer support to prisoners’ families as early as possible. This will have the additional advantage of establishing safe care solutions for the child where necessary before they become looked after. Family support can prevent children, who are at risk, from entering the criminal justice system as well as reduces re-offending by the parent. Evidence [5] shows that children with an imprisoned family member who remain within their family network, and who have faced similar experiences to those children who are ‘looked after’, tend to have little disruption to their lives, school attendance and performance, mental health and personal relationships. This approach not only protects the child’s welfare but also ensures that the child’s human rights to family life are respected.

We would also like to highlight the importance of multi-agency work, information sharing and early intervention across all agencies: local, statutory and voluntary. Information should be shared with family members as well as the agencies. Access to information allows families to provide the best possible support to children.

APF are concerned that there should be consistency across all aspects of work with families pre proceedings. Work with families’ pre proceedings should also include the imprisoned parent(s), who should also be kept- up-to-date with proceedings and be a part of decisions or solutions being made. With this in mind APF would like to highlight the need for specific provisions and mechanisms to be established in prisons for imprisoned parents to contribute to this process.

Support for Family and Friends Care

Whilst Action for Prisoners’ Families welcomes this clause we would like to reiterate the importance of multi-agency work and information sharing. Multi-agency work brings together practitioners from across sectors and professions, including those from relevant criminal justice agencies, to provide integrated support for children and families. The benefits of multi-agency deliver easier and quicker access to services (early intervention), better support for families, more appropriate assessment of needs and improved achievement and engagement.

APF would also like to highlight the importance of the child, where appropriate, to be involved in all aspects of decisions being made about their welfare and care arrangements. This is important for the child’s right to family life.

Contact Arrangements for Children in Care

Action for Prisoners’ Families is concerned that with the current pressure on local government, contact between children of prisoners and their families may not be prioritised despite children’s needs.

This section of the bill fails to address the situation of prisoners’ families who live with family and friends carers, where contact between parents and the carer(s) may be strained and have difficulties. Where there is a lack of social work support, contact arrangements can be difficult leading to tensions as the carer manages without any support or assistance. [6]

There is also a failure to address the range of relationships, key to wellbeing, a child with an imprisoned parent may have with grandparents, siblings and friends and others relatives and close family friends. Action for Prisoners’ Families urge that children be consulted with about their wishes for contact, where appropriate, giving those whose welfare is being decided a voice to say who they wish to see and how often.

Contact can have many benefits for prisoners’ children where they have to be looked after outside the family: it can help them make sense of their experiences, ensure the continuity of important relationships and reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety. Multi- agency working and information sharing can play a key role in maintaining contacts for looked after prisoners’ children.

We recognise that some relationships between carers and parents may be strained, a contact arrangement and understanding should be drawn up and mediated between all parties (parents, foster carers and social workers) at the earliest possible point to ensure the child is not deprived to its right to family life.

At the time of the Children’s bill debate, prior to its enactment in 1989, research evidence on contact showed that children not only benefited from maintaining existing relationships but contact was key to children developing a sense of their own identity. The research also showed evidence that maintaining contact with their families was key to many children being discharged from care.

Vulnerable Children

APF are concerned that prisoners and offenders children are not included in the definition of vulnerable children and fear that they may be overlooked. Those families who have no special need for support before the incarceration of a parent may be precipitated into a range of problems including mental health, housing and income difficulties. Where families are already experiencing difficulties these are exacerbated on the incarceration of a parent. In addition, these families often face stigma and discrimination and are inclined to hide themselves. We urge that this definition is revisited to incorporate this particularly vulnerable group.

Conclusion

Parental imprisonment sentences cause negative changes on their children’s behaviour and a disruptive impact on children and their families. Early intervention and multi- agency work in engaging with and supporting family and friends carers is key to protecting the wellbeing of prisoners’ children and ensuring that their right to family life is upheld. It is also important that the children of imprisoned parentsare prevented from becoming unnecessarily caught up in the care and criminal justice system. Prisoners’ children are proven to benefit from maintaining important relationships. It is less beneficial for children and more costly for the state to involve the child in the care system before considering care by family members. Where children are looked after outside the family every effort should be made to maintain contacts. Children and their imprisoned parents should be informed and involved in decisions about care arrangements and all prisons must establish mechanisms to make this possible.

April 2013


[1] DfE , 24 th January 2013 http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00220511/adoption-wms

[2] Ministry of Justice (2012) Prisoners’ childhood and Family backgrounds, London: Ministry of Justice

[3] Department for Communities and Local Government (2012) Working with Troubled Families: A guide to the evidence and good practice, London: Department for Communities and Local Government

[4] Ministry of Justice (2012) Prisoners’ childhood and Family backgrounds, London: Ministry of Justice

[5] Farmer E and Moyers S (2008) Kinship Care: Fostering Effective Family and Friends Placements (Jessica Kingsley); and Hunt,J., Waterhouse,S., and Lutman, E (2008) Keeping them in the Family: Outcomes for children placed in kinship care through care proceedings. London:BAAF.

[6] Roth, Tunnard , Lindley, DeGaye and Ashley (2011) Managing contact: Research findings on managing contact with parents and relatives for children living in family and friends care arrangement: Family Rights Group

Prepared 14th May 2013