For forty years now, Prisons Week has prepared prayer literature to enable the Christian community, through individuals and churches, to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons. Spurgeons is one of twenty organisations working in prisons who help plan this annual campaign. We aim to raise awareness and encourage prayer for those affected by imprisonment. Wednesday in the annual Prisons Week of Prayer is the day when we think about the families of prisoners.
Spurgeons Church Partnerships and Projects Manager, Rachel Shackleton reflects on how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our Prison-based family support services and how colleagues have had to find different ways of supporting families and children unable to visit their dads and relatives in prison, to try to keep a connection, so that they know that our help for all of them continues to be there – that they are not alone.
”This year, the challenges and difficulties of maintaining good family relationships with someone in prison have been magnified. Many families haven’t been able to visit since before lockdown. There is a deeper level of separation, more uncertainty and more anxiety than ever – if that were possible.
About half of prisons are now offering video visits and most prisons have re-started visits in person (social visits) with strict social distancing, face coverings, screens and zero contact, all of which is necessary but very distressing for children and parents. But the capacity for either type of visit is severely limited and the maximum per prisoner/family is once a month if there are slots available.
It’s too heartbreaking to think for very long about the face to face support that Spurgeons colleagues and volunteers are used to offering families – the cuppa on arrival, the ‘how’s it going’ chat, the emotional and practical support. COVID restrictions mean there are no refreshments in the visits centre or visits hall, and as little contact with as few people as possible. All of the scheduled special events and sessions including family days, baby-bonding sessions and time for just dads and their children are on hold until further notice.
I remember one of my colleagues, talking last year about the parenting course she runs for dads in prison, stressing the importance of staying positive for the dads and families, even when everything feels negative and complicated (which is most of the time in a prison environment). So that’s what we’re doing, finding different ways to ‘be there’ for families, especially when they’re struggling.
We now support and encourage via email, phone and Facebook, giving up to date information, help and advice; provide letter writing packs for dads and children, as well as children’s resource packs with activities, worksheets and child-friendly information about coronavirus and other topics to help them through this time. Where it is possible, through whatever means we can, we continue to work with prisoners, their families and children to maintain contact and build relationships, looking towards a more hopeful future.
All over the country today, as individuals, prayer groups and churches remember and pray for families of prisoners, I hope that they will know that they are not alone.”
Listen to Naomi, Family Services Manager at HMP Norwich early in the pandemic talk about our work.
-Rachel Shackleton is Spurgeons Church Partnerships and Project Manager. Rachel represents Spurgeons on the Prisons Week Board of Reference and is also a member of the Working Group.
About Prisons Week
Spurgeons is one of twenty faith-based organisations working in prisons who come together to plan this annual campaign, which starts on Prisons Sunday, the second Sunday in October. The aim is to raise awareness and encourage prayer for everyone affected by imprisonment and the criminal justice system. We take an active part in preparing the prayer resources, available from the Prisons Week of Prayer website.
About Spurgeons Children’s Charity
Spurgeons is a Christian children’s charity founded in 1867. Today we run 48 services/projects in 18 Local Authority areas across England (Midlands, East, West, South and London). More than 360 staff and 200 volunteers deliver a range of support services, including:
- Health and wellbeing for Early Years
- Children’s centres
- Domestic violence/abuse
- Young carers
- Prisoner family services
- Separated parents information programmes
- Specialist support for girls in gangs