Supporting children and families in Angus and Perth & Kinross experiencing parental imprisonment

Minister for Children & Young People, Fiona McLeod, joined children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland, and their partners in Perth Concert Hall, Perth on 13 May 2015 to showcase Thrive, an innovative Public Social Partnership (PSP), funded by the Scottish Government and developed to support children aged five years and under, and their families, who are affected by and have experienced parental imprisonment.

Minister for Children & Young People, Fiona McLeod, joined children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland, and their partners  in Perth Concert Hall, Perth on 13 May 2015 to showcase Thrive, an innovative Public Social Partnership (PSP), funded by the Scottish Government and developed to support children aged five years and under, and their families, who are affected by and have experienced parental imprisonment. 

The service, Thrive: to succeed, flourish, has done just that – over the last 17 months it has given support to 30 families in Perth & Kinross and Angus – the families include 40 children under the age of five.

The development of Thrive has only been made possible by the collaboration of a number of agencies including Angus Council, Perth & Kinross Council, Crossreach, Enable, NHS Tayside and the Scottish Prison Service.  This is the first time Barnardo’s Scotland has had the opportunity to showcase the service in practice, they were pleased to present the outcomes to their partners who have welcomed and supported the initiative in their local authorities and in HMP’s Perth and Glenochil.

The impact of parental imprisonment on children is significant, research tells us that children affected by parental imprisonment are three times more likely to develop a significant mental health problem than children who do not have a parent in prison.[1]  It is estimated that there are 27,000 children in Scotland affected by the imprisonment of a parent,[2] unfortunately an estimated figure is all that is available as there is no robust form of identification or assessment for this group of children*.

The bond created during the early years between a parent and their baby is essential to a child’s healthy development. When a parent is involved in the criminal justice system this can cause disruption not just to family life but also to the crucial bonding experience across the early years between parents and children.

Maintaining that bond while parents are in prison is a key focus for the Scottish Prison Service and through this PSP, partners Barnardo’s Scotland and Crossreach  have been building on and testing new and innovative ways of maintaining these relationships. Thrive seeks to improve the quality of the visit experience and provide, where possible and practical, special attachment sessions for parents and children.

Access to, and use of inclusive resources in the community is one of the key outcomes of the Thrive service, so the team also provide crucial support to families outside the prison walls. Thrive staff work with children and families in the community to open up lines of communication between services such as school, health and social work. Support to attend appointments is also provided through help with transport and emotional support, practical help is given on issues such as budgeting and finances.

There is also a strong focus on working with families to link them into community based activities such as the ‘Just Play’ service which focuses on play between parents and their children, as well as building confidence and resilience to reduce feelings of isolation. Key to all of this work is a flexible approach which is driven by the individual needs of each family.

Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland said: “We know from our work with families that children affected by parental imprisonment are an extremely vulnerable group who often suffer in silence, unseen and unheard.

“The Barnardo’s Scotland Thrive partnership, funded by the Scottish Government, has been working with families affected by imprisonment in Perth & Kinross and Angus and has early evidence that the support they provide both during prison visits and in the community has been extremely beneficial for the children and families they are working with.

“Improving and maintaining family ties is also an effective way of reducing re-offending and making communities safer.”

Supporting and maintaining family links and promoting positive relationships while a family member is in prison is one of the Scottish Prison Services’ key priorities. They recognise children and families of prisoners as a hidden population who suffer greatly from the impact of a family member’s imprisonment, the experience can be traumatic and the impact long-term.

The Scottish Prison Service has been an active partner in supporting Thrive, working in partnership with other agencies to maximise what can be achieved. The project is a positive example of the Scottish Prison Service’s commitment to doing things differently through a partnership approach.  Their commitment is further demonstrated by their secondment of a first-line manager to Thrive to drive forward and co-ordinate innovation and change within Perth Prison.

Stuart Campbell, Head of Operations at HMP Perth, said: “HMP Perth and Barnardo’s Scotland have been working in collaboration over the last year to deal with the issues of children affected by parental custody.  The partnership has been an excellent opportunity for both organisations to make a difference to the lives of families dealing with a parent in custody.  First Line Manager Madge Keanie was seconded to Barnardo’s Scotland at the start of the project and continues to work alongside her colleagues in the children’s charity in the Family Support Team as well as supporting her Barnardo’s Scotland colleagues in a number of projects within the prison.  Her years of experience working in Perth Prison has helped to bring the project into the prison environment without any major difficulties and has helped her prison colleagues to understand and support the aims of the project and the benefits for those involved.

“The Thrive project has been an excellent opportunity for prisoners held in custody at Perth Prison to engage in a number of activities to promote on-going positive relationships with the family using art and craft activity sessions. The feedback from prisoners has been very positive and the level of engagement has been extremely high demonstrating that this work is so beneficial to help assist the family to improve their abilities to be parents.”

George Ferguson, Head of Operations at HMP Glenochil, said: “At HMP Glenochil our family contact officers have witnessed a huge difference in a father son relationship since the sessions have started, there is a much stronger bond between them and the child’s behaviour has improved dramatically.  They play, read, sing and eat together at the sessions but most importantly they laugh together and have all grown as a family.

“HMP Glenochil firmly supports the work of Barnardo’s Scotland and believe that anything that can be done to help a prisoner and his family before release can only be a good thing, we just wish that we had more prisoners who qualified for the service that is being provided.”

A father whose family is being supported by the Thrive service whilst in prison, said:  “The most significant difference I have experienced is the bond I now have with my son which has been established and grown whilst in prison, this is as a result of the special attachment sessions. The visits give me a chance to take part in everyday activities with my son; he now calls me ‘daddy’ when he sees me, which he never did before.

”The support from Barnardo’s Scotland Thrive has also taken the stress of travel off my partner; her travel time to the prison has been cut down to two hours and we also save around £100 in travel expenses each month.”

With the added stress and time that prison visits bring, fitting in ‘normal life’ can be more demanding for the parent on the outside, especially when dealing with a child who is confused and upset after loss or the absence of a parent. The families often see themselves as being judged and have a certain level of distrust of support services.

Engaging with these ‘hard to reach’ families in Angus and Perth & Kinross, is a fundamental part of the service, without these positive relationships we wouldn’t be able to support them.

Throughout the first phase of Thrive the service has undertaken practical activities producing a number of benefits for the families we support and Angus and Perth & Kinross Councils.

The immediate support and benefit Thrive gives to the families also results in wider term benefits within the local authorities which can be measured in cost and resource savings.

These include

Increased ability to contact professionals for support, supporting social work capacity, practical help supporting parents attend appointments – eg i) people in rural areas often have poor/er access to health care: Thrive engaged with one parent inAngus who had been diagnosed with cancer – without the support it is likely that missed appointments would have affected health which in turn would have had an effect on the capacity to parent – missed appointments also have a cost effect on the local NHS 

  1. ii) Thrive staff attend children’s hearing appointments as required – freeing up social work time
  • Practical support is also offered to families through providing transport and support to attend appointments, and visits. Advice with parenting and financial issues can be given and families have been supported to access additional advice from other agencies such as CAB and local food banks – eg Even with public transport Glenochil is probably one of the hardest to reach! Before one mother was involved with Thrive it took her a minimum of seven hours to do the journey with her son on public transport as she stays in a rural area on the outskirts of Perth. This journey was reduced to one hour each way by car.


Barnardo’s Scotland looks forward to working with all partners to continue providing this service to families in Angus and Perth & Kinross and perhaps expand into other local authorities and prisons to ensure that no child suffers because a parent has been imprisoned.

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