Service in the spotlight: Invisible Walls – helping fathers and children separated by imprisonment
Losel et al found that ”positive family relationships and frequent contact during a prison sentence leads to positive resettlement outcomes.”*
Spurgeons’ pioneering project Invisible Walls, launched in 2011 with funding from the National Lottery, aims to support this journey. By working closely with the prison, fathers and their families, and Probation and Children’s Services, we ensure that prisoners and their families are seamlessly supported from imprisonment to release so that the transitions are far less traumatic for parent-child relationships**.
Invisible Walls incorporates a wide variety of services, developed in response to the needs outlined by the prisoners and their families. There is a Visitor Centre support service, operated by 70 volunteers including university students on placements and internships.
Leah, a Masters in Criminology graduate from Southampton, was one of our interns last year. She says, ”The experience deepened my understanding of the impact imprisonment has on both the residents and their friends and families.
"I came away with a clear desire for my future career to be in this type of work." Leah’s internship had a direct influence in her securing her first post-University appointment.
Invisible Walls also offers monthly family days and a Homework Club, one-to-one support and casework for fathers in custody, a rolling programme of family interventions including parenting and healthy relationships courses, and bespoke workshops on a range of family themes. Since 2016 the project has supported 590 fathers in custody through casework.
Invisible Walls has won praise from Lord Farmer*, whose review stressed the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties in the prevention of reoffending and intergenerational crime.
He commented, ”(Invisible Walls) has been transformational for men’s ongoing contact and sense of responsibility towards their families, who have in turn greatly benefitted from a kinder, less punitive visits experience.”
*University of Cambridge 2021 – Losel, Pugh, Makson, Sousa and Lanskey
**Risk and Protective Factors in the Resettlement of Imprisoned Fathers with their Families
Spurgeons Invisible Walls service won the 2016 Children and Young People Now Award for the Family Support Category for its work with prisoners and their families.