Ormiston Children and Families Trust: its work with the children of prisoners

My role is to provide community outreach work to children and young people who have a parent or relative in prison. The project aims to help children cope with the absence of their relative and to identify and manage their own emotions. It also assists carers in the practicalities of having a family member in prison, often by signposting to services.

Our intention is to help children and young people to stay in contact with their relative in order to maintain family relationships, unless this is deemed unsuitable. We can also help to arrange prison visits. Reducing feelings of stigma or isolation by arranging group activities for families enables children and young people in similar situations to support each other.

Community work has always appealed to me as I feel it is a positive way of engaging with families that are in most need. The outreach work done by our project means that families who would otherwise become isolated can access support.

The work we do is rewarding but can be sensitive and there are many issues to consider, including the reasons for imprisonment, levels of family contact, plans for post-release and, most importantly, the wishes and feelings of the child or young person affected. We work in partnership with other agencies and our main objective is to give a voice to the children and young people to express their wishes and opinions.

Without doubt, the most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing a  group of children and young people, each of whom has been referred to the project because they are confused and isolated by their relative’s imprisonment, meeting others in the same situation and talking and playing together without fear of judgement or prejudice. Any work that we can do to raise awareness of the difficulties that these young people face and reduce the stigma associated with having a family member in prison is a job well done.

The most difficult aspect of this work is having the time and resources to support the number of families referred to the project. Norfolk is a large county and a lot of the time that could be spent in direct work with families can be spent travelling instead.

Nicky Shorten works for the Ormiston Children and Families Trust, at the Time for Children and Young People project in Norfolk. This project is funded by the Children’s Fund. Ormiston provides similar services in Essex, 
Cambridgeshire/Peterborough and Bedfordshire. Ormiston also offers a range of publications for those who support children and families with a relative in prison.

The views of children, parents in prison, carers at home and teachers about Ormiston’s outreach support projects:

“It’s boosted my confidence. Before, I didn’t want to go out. I was being called a slag. There wasn’t anyone I could talk to who would understand. I felt like everything had been taken away from me. My project worker helped me know how to deal with it and try to ignore it. Before, I felt nobody cared; the whole world was against me. I felt like I was the only one with a dad in prison. Now it’s helped me feel I’m not the only one. I could forget about everything for a while.”

Laura, 11, whose father is in prison

“The support has been very healthy for them. The project worker is important to them. She takes time to get to know them and adapts to
each particular child. They talk about her after she’s gone. It lifts their spirits; makes them feel good.”

Imprisoned father of seven-year-old Billy

“I couldn’t afford to take the kids on trips by myself, so it’s got us all out. It’s really nice to get away from the estate and it’s been good getting
to know other families – the kids have all got on well together.”

Mother of three girls whose father is in prison

“Jason’s attendance has been a problem since he joined our school last year. It is better so far this term and his mother has been in closer contact with the school, which helps us to help Jason. Mum is very supportive of the children, but seemed to be shy about coming into school – less so recently. She was very distressed prior to, and at the time of, the conviction.”

Teacher of eight-year-old Jason

“Adam used to be very down when he visited. Now he’ll run down the aisle and jump into my arms! He’s much more lively – perkier – since the
project worker’s help.”

Imprisoned father of 12-year-old Adam

“Talking to someone, it helped me to feel more confident about my dad.”

Clare, eight, whose father is in prison

“It helped me with going to school and waking up.”

Joshua*, 12, whose father is in prison

“He is definitely happier and more confident; we have had fewer aggressive incidents.”

Teacher of Michael, whose father is in prison and who has been receiving one-to-one work

➔ More information from Time for Families – positive outcomes for children and families of offenders using Ormiston services in prisons and
in the community at www.ormiston.org/opus3.html

All names have been changed

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