"This is me"
Last week (9 December 2022), the Prison Reform Trust published a new toolkit to help practitioners ensure these children are properly supported and listened to and their needs identified and met. An estimated 17,000 children are impacted by maternal imprisonment every year but their needs are rarely considered when their mum is arrested, sentenced or sent to prison.
Co-created with children and young people with lived experience of having a mother in the criminal justice system, the This Is Me toolkit provides practical guidance to practitioners working with children affected by maternal imprisonment. It aims to ensure that the voices of children are heard and that they get the support they need at the earliest opportunity.
The toolkit has been informed throughout by the views and experiences of 28 children and young people with experience of a mother in the criminal justice system as well as 38 mothers.
The children and young people consulted for the development of the toolkit
said they do not want another report with yet more recommendations; they want action. They want to be seen, listened to, and considered at all stages of their mother’s journey through the justice system: arrest, court and sentencing, prison or community sentence, and prior to her release. They want to be supported, and they want to be included in decisions about that support.
Co-created with children and young people, and underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Child Impact Assessments aim to do exactly that. The toolkit is arranged into six sections:
- What is a Child Impact Assessment? Child Impact Assessments are not about assessing children, rather their needs. They are not about the parent; instead, the focus is on the child and their feelings. Importantly, the use of Child Impact Assessments is not proposed as a statutory procedure; they should be offered to children with the aim of providing support.
- Why do we need Child Impact Assessments? There is compelling evidence from children that Child Impact Assessments will lead to a better understanding of their needs and increased support.
- Who should support children with a Child Impact Assessment? Child Impact Assessments can be used by a wide range of practitioners, from statutory and voluntary services, as a tool to better understand children’s needs. Keeping children safe, listening without judgement, and sharing information sensitively are vital. The accompanying notes are a guide for practitioners and contain helpful information about how children might be feeling as well as practical actions to support children. Training is key.
- How might Child Impact Assessments be used? The toolkit explains the importance of working in partnership and the role criminal justice agencies and universal and specialist services can play to ensure children get the support they need at the earliest opportunity. Resources have been adapted for use with children with a father in the criminal justice system.
- How does the Child Impact Assessment work in practice? This is explained by a series of case studies based on children’s actual experiences, followed by scenarios that demonstrate the difference a Child Impact Assessment could make and what actions are needed for this to be implemented.
- How can we pilot the use of Child Impact Assessments? “This is me” contains a range of practicable resources for partnership groups to pilot, and evaluate, the use of Child Impact Assessments in their own context. The resources can also be used as standalone documents in the ongoing support of children.
I have reproduced one section from the Child Impact Assessment toolkit below.
A call to action
Crucially, “This is me” is a call to action for a range of stakeholders. The actions have been inspired by children themselves. Most are deliverable with immediate effect, requiring nothing more than attitudinal change, creativity, and a vision for improving outcomes for children. The toolkit provides the resources needed to implement these actions.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here