While a new report* states that “significant threat levels” remain for our prisons from Covid-19 and calls for restrictions to be kept in place till April 2021, a children’s charity continues to lead innovative ways to support both prisoners and their families living with imprisonment through the pandemic.
Spurgeons Children’s Charity, which provides family support and services from Visitors’ Centres at 12 prisons across the country, is collaborating with the prisons and their partners to put in place a broad programme of help for prisoners and loved ones who are struggling to cope with lockdown.
While the prisons take thorough precautions to monitor vulnerable prisoners and ensure their safety and wellbeing, Spurgeons’ family support teams have come up with a special range of measures to help families concerned about loved ones in custody. This includes:
• Letter writing packs provided for both prisoners and their children to help keep in touch. The packs include writing paper, colouring sheets and envelopes
• A children’s resource pack including a selection of activities, worksheets and child-friendly information about coronavirus and other topics to help them through these troubling times
• Self study parenting packs to help continue the learning prisoners have already started but has had to be postponed until the resumption of prison visits
• Facebook pages giving families access to information and advice on support available, including from other agencies and support groups
• Continuing contact with families, despite physical premises and face-to-face support no longer being possible
• Service specific email addresses so families can still raise concerns or queries.
A mother and partner who normally goes to HMP Norwich for family visits, for example, fed back to Spurgeons: “Thank you very much for the Easter activities that arrived this morning. The girls are looking forward to sending you some pictures when they finish them.”
‘Committed to continuing its support’
Spurgeons Head of Practice Lorraine White commented: “There’s never a good time to be in prison, or to have a loved one in custody but the close conditions of prison life, as well as families’ isolation with no prison visits – all quite rightly cancelled to keep everyone safe – has made this a particularly worrying time for both prisoners and families alike.
“Spurgeons remains committed to continuing its support for residents and their families while prison family visits are suspended.
“We’re working to protect their family time as much as possible through a very difficult and challenging period and I applaud the flexibility, innovation and determination that’s been shown by our family support teams at prisons across the country.”
‘helping prisoners maintain contact with their families is a key priority’
Kerry Longhorn, who heads Spurgeons’ Invisible Walls service at HMP Winchester, explained: “One of the key priorities at HMP Winchester during the pandemic is to help prisoners maintain contact with their families, who may themselves be struggling to cope during the lockdown but will be concerned about their loved one in custody.”
Naomi Webb, the Visitors’ Centre Manager at HMP Norwich, added: “The decision to cancel prison visits across the country, although necessary under the current circumstances, is having huge implications for those in custody and their families and children.
‘Visits are an integral part of the routine and something the family unit will, as a whole, look forward to’
“For most, visits are both an integral part of routines and something the family unit will, as a whole, look forward to immensely and they are proven to help families get through a period of living with imprisonment.
“While most of us are grateful to live in a time where we can use technology to keep in contact with family outside our own households, this isn’t available to those families with someone in custody.
“That’s why everyone is doing everything they can to try to help those families as much as possible and to limit any further impact coronavirus might have.”
* The report, commissioned by HM Prisons & Probation Service and prepared by Public Health England, published on 24 April 2020, assesses the impact of population management strategies in prisons in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in England.
About Spurgeons Children’s Charity
Spurgeons is one of the UK’s leading children’s charities, supporting children and families affected by social disadvantage. In the last year it supported over 23,000 children and 57,000 parents or carers.
The charity’s services ensure vulnerable children and families can access the help they need for a better future. It aims to help them better cope with their difficulties and provide them with resources and support to find long lasting solutions to challenging problems. Over 4.1 million children are living in poverty in the UK today, with around 400,000 classed by child protection services as being in need.
Support for families affected by imprisonment
Each year, around 160,000 children have a parent in prison. Spurgeons’ prisoner and family support services across England allow children to visit their loved ones in a friendly environment, while its mentoring and support programmes give young people the chance to reduce negative behaviours and build a better future.
Having a parent in prison can be detrimental to a young person’s wellbeing and behaviour:
• 65% of boys with a convicted parent go on to offend
• 37% of prisoners have family members who had been convicted of a crime
• 29% of prisoners experienced abuse as a child
• 63% of prisoners had been suspended or temporarily excluded from school.
Children of prisoners are three times more likely to develop behavioural problems and twice as likely to show anti-social or delinquent behaviour.
Spurgeons supports those children who have a parent in prison and helps young offenders to break the cycle of criminal activity that could lead to reoffending. It offers a wide range of support for those affected by a family member in prison, including:
• Visits centre service
• Visits play area
• Family engagement
• Family days
• One-to-one support and signposting.