Would it surprise you to learn that there are more children with parents in prison than there are children in care? It is estimated that 30,000 children face parental imprisonment within Scotland each year. However, there is almost no data available on this subject due to statutory bodies not asking and no specific policy being in place to support the young people affected by this. It raises so many questions. Where are these children? What is being done to protect them? How do we help? More children experience a parent being in prison than they do a parental divorce.
Young people with parents in prison are more likely to face mental heath issues, stigma, isolation and often unlikely to do well in school. They are often forgotten about and put into the corner, almost like putting an object into a box and shutting it away. The support these children need is not there, this is something we should be changing.
I was one of these children.
In 2011 my mother was imprisoned, I was 16 years old and left to care for my 8-year-old brother. I was fortunate that I was able to stay in my family home and continue to go to my school, not having to up-route my entire life. However, this often isn’t the case, many children are put into care, or passed from house to house and sometimes siblings are separated. Like many young people who experience these circumstances, I was still in school, and during this time it had a profound effect on me. I was bullied badly, most often from people who didn’t even know me or know the first thing about my situation. It made me not want to attend, so instead of going I would get up in the morning and get my brother out to school and lie in bed the rest of the day. I went into a state of depression. I couldn’t sleep, I comfort ate and put on so much weight. My guidance teacher tried his hardest, he checked up on me, phoned me nearly every day but I just lost my motivation and my drive. I didn’t want to be near people. I left school at 17 with hardly any qualifications and went to college, but I didn’t last very long, eventually agreeing to leave the course due to my lack of attendance.
Before my mum went to prison she had set up a meeting with social work to ask for their help in supporting me, and it was agreed they would. She did her very best to ensure that me and my brother had the support we needed, but it never really seemed to happen. I can’t tell you how many times I saw my social worker but I do know it was very little. There were times when I had no money for electricity, heating, and sometimes even food, but no one was there. The main support we had came from a charity organisation called Circle, who do phenomenal work across the board, and without the workers I had, quite frankly I don’t think I would have survived.
We are stigmatising children for the mistakes their parents make, which we shouldn’t be doing. We should also be asking why parents are committing crimes. Why do they feel the need to do this? What are we missing? How do we stop it? Many parents are driven into poverty by the continuing cuts and raises and the daily struggle to provide for their family. Some parents still struggle to do this even while holding down 2 or 3 jobs at a time.
I truly cannot describe the feeling of having a parent in prison other than it’s almost like a death. You’re grieving for someone who is no longer there, someone you can’t go to when you’re upset, happy, or just need a cuddle. For a long time, it fragmented our family, it took time to heal but even after my mum was released we still faced so many challenges. What I do know is my mother raised me to work for everything, to fight to be where I want to be and to always be myself. I know she made a mistake but I also know that in her darkest moment she turned to crime to provide for her children, which many other parents are also doing. Parents also deserve a chance to rebuild their lives and move on from their past.
Barnardo’s have been calling for the Government to appoint a minster for children with parents in prison. Although there are many charity organisations that do an amazing job at this, their budgets are continuously cut, and services need to close. This is our future generation and there isn’t enough being done to ensure they still have the best start in life.
I was constantly told that I would never amount to anything, I’d never succeed. Yet here I am about to get a degree, having opportunities I never thought I would and it is all thanks to the amazing support system I built up and the people I’ve met over the years always having faith in me. But what about those who don’t have the support system?
It’s the year of young people so I ask you, fight for those who don’t have a voice and are unheard. Challenge the system, invest in these children’s futures, help them gain their motivation back and inspire them. Let them know that no matter what they may face, where they may come from, they will always have a chance, always have an opportunity but most of all they always have a place in this world.
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
About the blogger
This month’s Year of Young People blog, written by Catherine Bonner. She discusses the challenges that she faces in her own life and her expectations of practitioners who support young people in her position.