Children whose dads are sent to prison are rarely given the opportunity to share what for them is a deep emotional experience where they bear no blame - but a new pack of arts activities, Hidden Voices, is designed to help others understand exactly what children can face when they find themselves in this situation.
The pack has been co-produced with talented artists, with children whose dads are in custody – and with men in prison whose children are back at home.
Nepacs and Helix Arts jointly developed Hidden Voices. Nepacs is a long standing charity which works across the north east region to help support a positive future for prisoners and their families through their work in prisoners, visitors’ centres and in the community. Helix Arts has been co-producing great art with diverse communities for more than 35 years and is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.
Children in North East England whose dads are in custody, have worked with professional musicians to co-create songs which openly share their experiences of seeing their dads go to prison and living with that situation day in day out.
The Hidden Voices ‘kit bag’ of activities has been designed with the involvement of local children and prisoners from HMP Kirklevington Grange to help dads in prison to reflect on the impact of their offending on their children at home. It’s anticipated that this programme will encourage men to turn their back on crime and reduce reoffending.
Dads at HMP Kirklevington Grange listened closely to the songs and were inspired to work with them to co-design a ‘kitbag’ of creative activities based around the songs. In turn these activities will be used with other dads in prison to stimulate conversations about underlying issues, reflect on behaviours, promote empathy, increase understanding and ultimately help rebuild family relationships and resilience.
The workshops were co-produced with the artists, with the young people, with prisoners and with staff from Nepacs and Helix Arts.
Catherine Hearne is CEO Helix Arts: “Working with the song-writers and musicians was a completely fresh way for the children to find the words to express the feelings they had been burying or ignoring. The children began to see themselves as artists channelling their emotions into a great piece of art – just like the professionals do. The process helped them feel very differently about their experiences – it helped them come to terms with their situation and prepare for a different future.”
The flexibility of the Hidden Voices resource means it can be used by Nepacs and others working with prisoners in a variety of ways. The arts-based activities have also been designed to slot into the Nepacs’ Heading Home programme. Through Heading Home Nepacs staff and volunteers provide help to prisoners, offenders, their families or friends prepare for release and resettlement across north east prisons and in the community.
Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs said: “Hidden Voices has been an inspirational project for Nepacs. Helix Arts’ practitioners have been able to draw out the emotional impact of having a parent in prison through engaging young people in music and song. They have combined empathy and creativity to produce materials that will have a profound effect on attitudes and awareness.
“By including Hidden Voices in our highly regarded Heading Home programme we can encourage prisoners or offenders to think about how their children are feeling and the impact of their crime and the sentence on them.”
Hidden Voices was made possible with grant funding from the Ministry of Justice and with the support of the Tees and Wear Prisons Group.
Angie Petit, Governor of HMP Kirklevington Grange (pictured here being presented with a Hidden Voices kitbag from the Nepacs' youth project) said, “Helping the dads in our prisons understand the impact that their imprisonment has had on their loved ones, is one way that we can help them make better choices for their life on release. In our prisons, the men tell us that understanding and strengthening relationships with their family gives them better chances to live law abiding lives on release. We therefore welcome the “Hidden Voices” project into HMP Kirklevington Grange and Tees and Wear Prisons.”