Top tips for families
Looking after and providing support for a child with a parent in prison can be a difficult time for everyone involved. You have an important role to play in the child's life, as well as coping with your own feelings about the imprisonment.
Support for families, children and partners of prisoners
Looking after and providing support for a child with a parent in prison can be a difficult time for everyone involved. You have an important role to play in the child's life, as well as coping with your own feelings about the imprisonment. We hope the tips on this page will help you better support the children or with a parent in prison, in your care.
Supporting a child with a parent in prison
Supporting a child with a parent in prison, might be something you never thought you would have to do. The situation may be complicated, and you may be navigating the criminal justice system for the first time.
Spurgeons have been supporting families affected by imprisonment for some time and we have put together some information to help you explore common questions you may be having including how to tell the child and how to best support the child through this time.
Families of prisoners - support: what to say to the child
One of the biggest concerns you may have, whilst caring for a child who has a parent in prison, is how to tell them: what to say and when. We have put together some helpful tips which we hope that you will find useful.
Talk to them as soon as possible
They may already know or suspect something is wrong. It's better that they hear it from you than someone unconnected with you.
Explain where their parent is and why
Use language that they will understand and that is appropriate for their age. Do not give them too much information in one go. Let them take in what you've said and be prepared to explain it more than once.
Let them know they can ask questions and it's OK to talk about it. Let them know they are not to blame - children often think they are. Reassure them their parent is safe and that they'll be able to talk to or see them.
Listen to them
But don't force them to talk if they don't want to. Just reassure them that you are there for them.
Offer them someone else to talk to
Sometimes they might prefer to speak to a relative, friend or teacher rather than you. Let them know this is ok and who they can speak to.
Share your own feelings
Talk to them about how you're feeling and let them know that it's ok to feel different emotions.
Don't paint the parent as a bad person
Try to support a good relationship with their parent, even if this could be tough in some circumstances.
Being a parent / carer
Every child will react differently to being told that their parent is in prison. You may feel unsure or alone but more families go through this than you think. Below we have provided some pointers which may help you in your role supporting a child with a parent in prison.
Let them know you are there for them
It can be a difficult or frightening time. Children might be worried other things are going to happen. They might be relieved by afraid to say so. Let them know they have your support. Tell them that you understand.
Be prepared for unusual behaviour
They might behave differently - they could be upset, angry, very quiet or not want to talk.
Treat each child individually
If there are a number of children in the family, each one may react differently. Think about how they are individually affected and give those who need it extra support.
Think about talking to their school
It's a good idea to let the school know what's happening so they can support you as a family through this time, especially if the child's behaviour changes at school.
Think about ways they can stay in touch with their parent
In most circumstances, they can write, call or visit. Knowing they can see or speak to their parent will reassure them and help them keep the parent updated on what's happening at home or school. It's these everyday things that will be most missed.
Keep as good a relationship as possible with their parent and try to agree on things.
Helping a child visiting a parent in prison
Visiting their parent in prison is a great way for a child to keep in contact and deal with the separation. You might want to do some research before the first visit, so you can prepare the child.
You may like to visit the prison on your own first. Each prison runs visits differently, so it's a good idea to find out what to expect when taking a child or children along. Things to find out include:
- Are there play facilities in the visitors' centre?
- Do they have refreshments on sale? Can you take your own?
- Is there a better time to bring children along?
- Is there anything for older children to do?
- Can the child touch their parent and move around?
- What facilities are there for pushchairs, nappy changing and feeding?
Some children may want to visit their parent in prison, whilst others will not. It's a good idea to discuss this with them first. Some things to think about include:
Don't force a visit
If a child doesn't want to go don't force them. Instead talk to them about why they feel that way.
Explain what prison is like
Tell them about security measures, searches, locking doors, people in uniform, sniffer dogs etc. Tell them the visit might have to be short.
Try not to miss school
Where possible keep visits to out-of-school hours, weekends or holidays. If you have to go during school time, be sure to talk to the school about it first.
Plan your journey
Know how you're going to get there. Keep it as relaxed as possible, especially if it's a long journey. Pack favourite toys, books or games to take with you, along with drinks and snacks. Be sure to choose small toys as you will need to pack these away into a locker before entering the prison for your visit.
Give them special attention
When they see their parent, let them have time to talk about their news, ask questions, share their thoughts and feelings. Reassure them they can stay in touch by letter or phone until the next visit too.
Support them afterwards
Each child might react differently after a visit. They might need to talk or perhaps they become quiet, angry, frustrated or change their behaviour. Comfort them and talk to them about how they're feeling.