When you’re in care, being separated from a sibling can have a detrimental impact. The SCRA and Families Outside Staying Connected project has been set up to find out what it feels like when brothers and sisters are separated where one is care-experienced and one is in prison. In this blog for CYCJ, Kirsty Deacon talks about the aims of the project – and how you can help.
We know that care-experienced children and young people are over-criminalised and over-represented in the prison population. A recent Scottish Prison Service prisoner survey found that 25% of the prison population said they had been in care when they were children, with 60% of this group saying they had been in care at the age of sixteen. For young people in HMPYOI Polmont specifically, 33% had been removed from their family when they were children.
In Scotland we understand how important relationships with brothers and sisters can be for children within the care system. You can see this through the work of The Promise, recent changes in the law around sibling participation rights in Children’s Hearings and around keeping siblings in care together, and the Staying Connected and Together National Practice Guidance which supports these changes. The same isn’t true where brothers and sisters are separated because one is on remand or sentenced either in prison or secure accommodation.
We don’t know very much about what it is like for care-experienced children and young people who have a family member in prison, though what does exist tells us that this can be more difficult where the child is not within the family home. We also don’t know very much about what it’s like when brothers and sisters are separated where one is in prison. The research I’ve done around this highlights how it can feel when you have a brother or sister who is in prison:
When Morven’s* grandad died and her brother was in prison she “didn’t have [her] support network […] you know, at that time it’s, like, you’re a teenager, you don’t chat to your parents.”
“I was lost when [my brother] was in here [YOI] a wee bit ‘cause, know what I mean, I used to just go oot wae him every day, you know what I mean, I used to muck aboot wae [my brother] aw the time. And you only notice that’s the, the true pal you have is your family kinda a wee bit” (Chris)
It can also be really difficult for children when they are separated from their brothers and sisters when they go into care:
“Don’t split us up. It is hard enough coming into care without not seeing my brother/sister” (Keeping in Touch: A report of children’s experiences)
To try and find out more about what it is like for brothers and sisters where one is care-experienced and the other is on remand or serving a sentence in a prison or secure accommodation, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Families Outside have set up the Staying Connected project. The project is funded by The Promise Partnership. I’m the Research Officer working on this project and we want to find out what it feels like when brothers and sisters are separated where one is care-experienced and one is in prison. Do they want to keep in touch, and if they do, are they able to do this, and how? Are there things that makes this easier or more difficult and does anyone ever ask children and young people about whether they want to see their brother or sister who is in prison?
We want to use this information to make this experience better for children and young people. We will be writing a report and creating other resources to share what we find during the project which finishes in October 2023.
As part of this project, we are looking to speak to the following groups of children and young people:
- Children and young people (up to age 25) who are care-experienced with the experience of a brother or sister on remand or serving a sentence in prison or secure accommodation
- Children and young people (up to age 25) who are currently, or have recently been, on remand or in custody within a prison or secure accommodation and have a care-experienced brother or sister
We’re using a wide definition of “care-experience” and “sibling” so that everyone is included. See our project flyer for more details.
All children and young people in Scotland have the right to a family life. This means that they have the right to be able to have a relationship with their brothers and sisters and keep in touch with them if they want to, even where their brother or sister is in prison. This project wants to help make sure that this is happening, because like Morven said when she was talking about prison visits:
“It’s like they don’t really consider brothers and sisters being affected by it.”
If you’re interested in taking part in the research, work with groups who might be interested, or just want to know more, please get in touch with the project researcher, Kirsty Deacon, at Kirsty.Deacon@scra.gov.uk or by calling 07494 675189.
* Some young people in the research chose to use their own name while others are represented by a pseudonym.