Tim’s mission to help children of prisoners

February 02 2015

RAISING awareness about children with parents in prison is St Andrews resident and assistant director for Barnardo's, Tim Carter.

RAISING awareness about children with parents in prison is St Andrews resident and assistant director for Barnardo's, Tim Carter.

He believes that this particular group of children often slip under the radar, as there is nothing in place to identify them when their parents are sentenced.

Tim has been working as an assistant director for UK-wide charity Barnardo's, which supports and cares for vulnerable children and young adults, for 11 years.

Before working in the charity sector, Tim undertook social work training and was employed in Bristol social services for 12 years.

He felt working for a charity would give him more opportunity to have an impact on government policy and practice, and was drawn to Barnardo's because of their strong value base and ethos.

Children of Prisoners, which was established 18 months ago, is one of the many projects that Tim has been involved in. He believes that it is the last big category of vulnerable children which needs addressing.

"There's an estimated 200,000 children affected, which is a significant number," Tim explained. "However, children are unlikely to reveal themselves due to the social stigma of having a parent in prison, and for fear of being bullied. Therefore it's kept very secret and they remain hidden from local services. It's a big burden for children to carry. The more we can do to raise awareness among health workers, police and schools, the better."

He added: "A key part of our work is to provide the right support for families, and enough access to information. It's important to intervene an early stage, as it's often the case that children of prisoners can start offending - it can become a vicious cycle. We've made a deliberate attempt to work more directly with children and families."

As part of Tim's work, he has been based in a number of prisons, helping to improve families' experience when visiting a relative.

"It's a very stressful process, so we've attempted to make the environment more relaxed and suitable for children and young people. It's about putting the family first."

By also helping families maintain contact with their relative in prison, it gives the offender a sense of belonging, therefore decreasing their chances of re-offending.

"The costs of keeping someone in prison is huge, and the rates of re-offending are really high, which proves more needs to be done in prisons to challenge behaviours.

"We're looking at how we can reduce the number of people going into prison, addressing how prisoners respond and how we can support the young people affected."

According to statistics gathered by Barnardo's, children of prisoners are twice as likely to experience mental health problems, and less likely to do well at school; and three times more likely to be involved in offending - 65 percent of boys with a convicted parent going on to offend themselves.

As a result of the project, a new report has been created called ‘On the outside’, which calls on the government to appoint a lead minister to have responsibility for children of prisoners.

The minister would be responsible for ensuring that children are identified at the point of sentencing or remand, and a national action plan is developed for cross-department implementation by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education.

"There doesn't need to be a big shift in government policy to make a change," Tim clarified. "It's about choosing the right time to have conversations about children of prisoners and getting politicians committed. I believe a solution is not far away."

Tim Carter