Locked Out

March 13th 2024

How Early Years staff can help children cope with imprisonment of a loved one

In my life many of my connections have been made through serendipity.  In this case it was a chance conversation with a nursery manager about a grandparent struggling to take on the responsibility of her grandson when her daughter was imprisoned. It led to a longer conversation with my Reception Teacher sister who had worked for Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) about doing more to support young children with a parent in prison. I then discovered that Martine Thompson, one of the LEYF Pedagogy Coaches had also worked for PACT. She described her work at PACT as:

… supporting children with a loved one in prison.  The task seemed so overwhelming. I felt like I was a drop in the ocean. However, now there is a partnership between LEYF and PACT it makes me feel much more assured that we will make a difference.

Learning more about the plight of children affected by parent in prison highlighted the most shocking fact that children are the innocent victims –left in the shadows, their needs forgotten, and this can have a devastating impact on their life chances.  They are what Alice Sharp called Fragile Families.

As part of the research, I noticed very little guidance of Early Years staff to support children whose parent or loved one ends up in prison.  For example six out of 10 boys with a father  in prison  will follow their father into prison, and they’re more likely to go to prison than to go to university. One of the LEYF managers recounted a story that sadly supported this statistic. She remembered one of the children aged 4 announced that her Dad was in jail and when she grew up she would go to jail too.  She said “I will be a burglar because I am very good at creeping around and climbing”.

LEYF has therefore developed a free downloadable pack for the Early Years sector to help staff respond when they know or suspect that a child’s parent may be in prison. It is such a sensitive situation requiring deep levels of compassion because people remain very ashamed of the situation.  However, we know that when families are able to support the prisoner, reoffending drops by 39%, which is significant for the children living in those families.

This led to a conversation with Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of PACT, the 125 year-old children’s charity within the prison service which also run the Prisoners’ Families Helpline (prisonersfamilies.org) and the National Prisoners Helpline (0808 808 2003). He agreed to be on our Podcast and remind people to reject the inclination to write off children of prisoners because of the view that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

If you believe in this and you want system change, then listen to the podcast and share it far and wide!