Sir Cliff Richard and the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini have recently raised the issue of anonymity for those under investigation for historic sex crime, but not at that point either arrested or charged. Without entering into that debate, it is worth pointing out that there are other groups affected by the criminal justice system where a lack of anonymity can cause them problems in society.
One such group is the children of offenders. Those offenders under the age of eighteen are provided with anonymity in almost all cases. However, that protection does not really apply to children of adult offenders. Communities can read in their local press, where it still exists, or on social media of a father of a family of four living in such and such a location and easily identify the children. These children can then be easily identified by their peers at school and become subject to bullying and other torments.
Children Heard and Seen is a charity started in Oxfordshire and where, until my term of office ended, I was a trustee. The charity works with the children with adults in prison, often fathers, but not always, and in a few cases both parents. Until recently these children were the forgotten sufferers from the workings of the criminal justice system: many, especially boys, went on to commit crimes in later life.
I have written about the work of the charity before on this blog, but I thought it helpful to provide it with another mention, especially since they have this summer been awarded Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, one of six groups in Oxfordshire so recognised.
The following has been taken from the web site of Children Hears and Seen.
On Friday 14th June 2019, Children Heard and Seen and MyTime jointly hosted the first children’s voice conference for children with a parent in prison, ‘Our Time To Be Heard‘. The conference was held in the iconic Churchill Rooms at Westminster, and was attended by MPs, policy makers, Peers, academics and journalists. It was entirely devised by the children, who wrote and presented their own speeches, and read out poetry they had written.
The children got the chance to interview HMP Staffordshire’s governor with insightful questions such as “Why aren’t there more family visits?”. Also the opportunity to interview two journalists from the BBC with grilling questions such as “Why does a person’s face, address, second name need to be in the papers? Why does it have to backfire on the children and everyone who knows the person?”. The conference was a great success and brought together children from around the UK who have a parent in prison,
At the end of the conference, the children announced seven calls to action. They identified that they need to be supported, they need to be heard, seen, and have their voices reflected in policy.
There is currently no policy in place which supports children with a parent in prison, even on remand. This conference allowed the children to discuss what should be enforced in national policy to increase their mental health, wellbeing and generally benefit their lives and the lives of other children with a parent in prison. These are seven calls to action decided by children. They are ready for change.
1: Currently when people are sent to prison and it is reported in the media, they print the person’s street name and town. This leaves the remaining family and children extremely vulnerable. We know of families who have had to move due to the abuse they have received after their addresses were published in local and sometimes national press. In Norway, the press are not allowed to print the addresses of offenders if they have children, why can we not do the same in the UK?
2: Allow children to say a proper goodbye to their parent before the end of a visit by providing a ten minute warning of the end of visiting time, as this would reduce stress and trauma not only for the child, but also the prisoner.
3: Family Days are used as a reward for people in prison who have an ‘enhanced status’, meaning people who obey the prison rules. This means that not all children are offered family day visits, and are further punished by not being allowed to have contact with their parent as a result of their parents’ behaviour. These are often held back as punishment to the prisoner, resulting in more punishment for the children. This approach focuses on the parent in prison, punishing children further for actions that are out of their control.
4: Consideration should always be given to the needs of children when a parent is arrested r a search warrant is executed.
5: Pupil Premium was set up to improve the attainment of disadvantaged children. In addition to the rules on free school meals eligibility, all Looked After children and children with a parent in the armed forces are eligible for Pupil Premium or Service Children Premiums. We feel that children with a parent in prison are as disadvantaged as these groups and should therefore be eligible, regardless of income. Changing this would give schools more money to support children with a parent in prison.
6: There are an estimated 312,000 children in the UK with a parent in prison. However there is no record of these children or where they live. Maybe placing them in the same category as ‘looked after children’ for school admissions would make it easier to identify this invisible group and give them support.
7: The last call to action is something all the young people at the conference felt strongly about. They feel fortunate to be supported by Children Heard and Seen, and by MyTime, Families Outside and Nepacs. We all want all children with a parent in prison to have support in their community. There is a desperate lack of funding in this area and very little specialised support available. We believe supporting children affected by parental imprisonment is key to breaking inter-generational offending.
Here are some quotes from our children, talking about what Children Heard and Seen means to them:
- I love Children Heard and Seen because we do really fun things and I feel good talking about it in the group because it helps me with how I feel. The good thing about it is the places we go to and the things we do together.Kayim, aged 9.
- This is why we need support like the support from Children Heard and Seen to be happy. Every child should have the support we get from Children Heard and Seen. Leah, aged 8.
- The charity Children Heard and Seen has helped me realise I am not the only one going through these experiences. Luke, aged 12.
- I like coming to Children Heard and Seen because when I come here I feel supported and that I can discuss anything with them! Khizr, aged 12.
- I like Children Heard and Seen because I can talk to other people in the same situation or who had the same situation as me. I feel like I can express my feelings better now than I could before. Thanks to Children Heard and Seen I’m glad that I can be heard and understood. Jasmyn, aged 12.