Together a chance
All women’s prisons should have social workers dedicated to supporting mothers in custody to stay in touch with their children, where it is in the child’s best interests, according to the charity Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust).
The call coincides with the publication today of an independent evaluation report that shows how social workers in two prisons have helped to keep mothers in touch with their children and have supported in managing incidents of self-harm, which are at record levels in women’s prisons.
The Together a Chance (TaC) pilot project, run by Pact and funded by the Sylvia Adams Trust, employs two prison-based social workers to support mothers in HMPs Send and Eastwood Park. Their role is to bridge the gap between the prison and social services in the community, keeping mothers in touch with their children where it is in the child’s best interests. The nature of the work in each prison differs with women in HMP Send having committed more serious offences and being less likely to have contact or have children live with them in the future, and thus the focus is often supporting women to manage expectations and their feeling of loss and despair, with risk management around contact playing a significant role.
The report focuses on the findings from the data collected during this review period of year two of the evaluation from May 2022-May 2023 and it is pleasing to read a report published so swiftly. The findings of the evaluation are very positive:
- The Pact Social Worker acts as a conduit of information between local authority practitioners and the prison establishment, as well as between mothers and community practitioners.
- The Pact Social Worker’ knowledge base does not seem to be held elsewhere within the institution and so there is little if any duplication of work between roles. Probation POMs have a similar knowledge base, but it is reported they have insufficient understanding of the statutory children’s social care environment to meet the needs and demands of mothers in prison.
- The vast majority of prison staff respondents stated that the prison Social Worker role should be social work qualified (as are the Pact Social Workers).
- Pact Social Workers are acting as mediators for mothers to support their engagement with social services, advocating for contact with children appropriate to the circumstance, and ensuring that wherever possible relationships are maintained. This instils hope in mothers who have goals to work towards.
- The Pact Social Workers are providing information and education to community practitioners and have developed a resource to support professionals in explaining to children where their mothers are.
Prison staff and the mothers themselves spoke positively about the pilot project:
- Prison staff report that the nature of the trusting and supportive relationship that the Pact Social Worker builds with imprisoned mothers serves to reduce suspicion and regain trust in Social Workers in the community.
- There was an increase in the proportion of mothers who felt they could trust Children’s Social Services to help their families at 6-month follow-up surveys compared to at the start of the intervention (42% vs 34%). Whilst mothers do feel an increased trust in children’s social services after involvement with TaC, trust remains low.
- All mothers were ‘very satisfied’ with their Pact Social Worker in follow-up surveys. The vast majority of mothers (95 %) reported feeling supported by professionals within the prison, but most (79%) reported feeling not at all or only slightly supported by professionals outside.
As you can see from the chart I have reproduced from the report below, just 7% of children are living with their father while their mother is in prison with a wide range of other arrangements being made.
Conclusion & Recommendations
The pilot project was established following Lord Farmer’s landmark review in 2019 about the importance of maintaining family ties in women’s prisons. The report recommended that the Ministry of Justice fund on-site social workers as part of a multi-disciplinary team within each prison.
Andy Keens-Down, Chief Exec of Pact, described the project as a
“win-win — keeping mothers in touch with their children where appropriate, supporting efforts to tackle the worryingly high levels of self-harm in women’s prisons and reducing the likelihood that they’ll reoffend.”
He also noted that it is now more than three years since the Farmer Review and called for the government to invest in social workers in every women’s prison.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here