What has Prison got to do with Early Years?

March 7th 2024

Many of you will have heard me say that the Early Years is a highly political space. We find ourselves addressing poverty, social services, education and housing and now I find myself within the social justice space, in particular, prisons.

I became aware of the impact of prisons on small children through a chance conversation with one of my managers. She noticed the grandparent was bringing the child to nursery much more often and they were no longer seeing Mum. Nobody said anything until the manager gently broached the Mum’s absence with the grandparent.  It turned out the Mum was in prison and the grandparent was very embarrassed and ashamed of the situation but really struggling.  The manager was highly sensitive to the grandparent’s position and figured out ways with her team to support the grandmother without her feeling judged. Like it or not, we live in a very judgy environment these days despite all the talk of inclusion, but that’s for another blog!

The conversation got me thinking hard about this and I did some research into available help and useful resources for Early Years staff, and to my dismay, I soon discovered that there was very little practical advice available. My research led me to some great organisations like the national charity Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) and Catch-22 but practical advice for Early Years staff was in short supply. These organisations tend to work directly in the prisons or with families of prisoners, whereas I was interested in helping staff to know how best to support a family or a loved one who might be in that position.

So why is this important? The statistics are pretty scary.

  • There are 86,000 people in prison, and 81,000 of them are men
  • Illiteracy rates are huge
  • 6 out of 10 children are more likely to follow their father into prison than go to university

I invited colleagues across LEYF to help create a pack which offers guidance in understanding and responding to children in your setting where a parent or close relative is in prison. I was amazed at the number of people whose lives have been touched by imprisonment – it certainly leaves a deep scar. The pack is designed to help support the child, the parents and the staff member.  Much of the content will be familiar because it is based on empathy and compassion – both of which frame great practice.

We were really pleased for the help we received from PACT, including spending a day in a London prison talking to young dads. We are also very grateful to Famly who sponsored the design and publication of the pack which I hope you find helpful!

Click here to download the pack for free from our website. Please share it, comment on social media and get it widely distributed so that together, we can help staff address what is often a very hidden issue and where children are the innocent victims.