Helping prisoners and their children make happy childhood memories

Helping prisoners and their children make happy childhood memories

When fathers in custody move in preparation for release to Britannia House, an open prison in Norwich, Spurgeons Brit House Dads Visits helps them get ready for parenting their children outside. 

During custody in Norwich, fathers can have family visits and spend time doing activities with their children. But when they move to the adjacent lower security Category D Britannia House in preparation for release, they enter ‘Lay Down’ time which can be several months’ duration. Until a few years ago, they could only have social visits from their children during this period, before then being offered Maintaining Family Ties visits to meet up with the family outside the prison environment.

So Brit House Dads Visits, initiated by Spurgeons Family Services Worker Melanie Ellis, was created to bridge that gap. Melanie says, ”It’s about dads building stronger bonds with their children and gaining confidence in parenting so that mums will feel able to share parenting responsibilities on their release.

”We talk to dad about what he wants to do with his children – what activities, what kind of food. We show him round the Visitor Centre and garden where the visits take place so he knows his way around. Most of the children already know the Visitor Centre and myself and Laura, a Volunteer, from when they have visited their father in the main prison, so that gives them some continuity.

”Dads may not have had the full responsibility of looking after their children before. Even eating together is something they don’t get to do in custody.

”On a Brit House Dads Visit, older children might get to help their dad make pizza muffins or toasties and choose the toppings. And their dad has to organise them, make sure they’ve washed their hands, and get them to tidy up afterwards. Dads with toddlers often find that they are shattered after several hours of looking after them! It’s lovely to watch that parent-child relationship developing and dads growing in confidence.”

Even when they can have Maintaining Family Ties visits outside, some fathers still really value Brit House Dads Visits. One dad said, ‘When I go home, the children are busy with after school clubs and seeing their friends and I don’t get to spend much time with them. When they visit me on Dads Visits, I get to spend the whole time with them and really talk to them.’ Another dad commented, ‘On a (Brit House) Dads Visit, I get to spend so much more time playing with my boys. There aren’t the distractions of the Xbox and mobile phones and they can’t hide away in their bedrooms!’

The children love the visits too. One teenager recalled, ‘It was very fun. We got to make good. We made hot chocolate and milkshake. It was good to spend time with just us two and Dad.’

Melanie says, ”We take photos to give both dads and children a memento of that special time together. Having a dad in prison is not the child’s fault – and they deserve the opportunity to have some happy memories of childhood, whatever the circumstances. We aim to give them that previous opportunity.”

Melanie Ellis

About Spurgeons Prison-based Family Support Services:

Spurgeons delivers family support services in 12 prisons across England. These services provide family support services for prisoners and their families and friends who visit them, with a particular focus on children and strengthening family relationships. We appreciate how important prison visits are for everyone involved. Our aim is to make them less daunting so that the time spent together helps families to re-connect in a positive way. We are always here to offer practical and emotional support.

To learn more about Spurgeons’ work in Prisons, click here.