Young people from County Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear with a parent in prison are being offered a specialist support service thanks to north east charity, Nepacs.
The service is funded thanks to a £15,000 grant awarded in April 2021 via the ‘Supporting victims fund’, funding provided by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Kim McGuinness and other charitable donations, which has enabled it to be extended to the County Durham area.
The service provides unique support for young people aged 8 to 17 years across County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland who are experiencing feelings of isolation, trauma and distress as a result their of parent being incarcerated in prison. Having a parent in prison can negatively affect children’s mental wellbeing, relationships with their peers, educational attainment, behaviour, financial stability and increase the likelihood of misusing substances.
The young people are offered one to one support in schools and through virtual engagement online, where they will be given the chance to speak openly about their thoughts, feelings and concerns for the future with the guided support of a trained Nepacs youth worker. The one to one service will offer a minimum of three, 1-hour sessions for a young person, providing a safe space to ask questions relating to imprisonment alongside exploring longer-term peer support activities available through the Nepacs’ youth project.
Aelred Robinson, Nepacs’ youth project coordinator, said: “When a child experiences the imprisonment of a parent or close family member, they become subject to their own ‘hidden sentence’ which brings feelings of isolation, shame, confusion and abandonment without someone who can readily provide answers or a listening ear. This experience can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing and behaviour and, increasingly, young people are vulnerable to bullying and victimisation if other children find out details of their family member being in prison through social media.
“Because there is no current statutory guidance to inform schools when a parent of a child is sent to prison, the traumatising event of imprisonment can often go unnoticed. The outreach work we provide through 1:1 support can also help to raise further awareness, reducing the stigma attached to imprisonment and encouraging more young people, their families and schools to work with Nepacs to receive individual support and guidance.”
Amanda Lacey, chief executive of Nepacs added: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, affecting the lives of every child and young person in the country. Due to COVID-19 and suspension of prison visits, children were not able to see their parent in prison for much of the last year, and the associated anxieties are likely to compound an already difficult situation for them.
“We are delighted to have received this continued funding from Northumbria PCC as it recognises that children with a parent in prison are adversely affected, are in need of tailored support and will give these young people a voice. We hope that the support we can offer will lead to increased resilience and a confidence to access appropriate support for the young people and in the longer term these young people will experience better mental health, a reduced likelihood of getting involved in substance misuse / anti-social behaviour, better attendance and engagement at school and a reduced likelihood of them going on to offend themselves in the future.”
On awarding the funding, Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner said: "This project is about engaging with young people, guiding them through the process and their emotions – the shock, sadness and confusion. We know how important family is in a child's upbringing, so I am delighted to be able to support this work which will be incredibly welcome during those challenging times of not having a parent or relative around.
"No child should have to suffer the trauma these situations can bring and we need to raise awareness of this group of children, and the support they need. Intervening at a key point in their lives can make a real difference and help prevent further struggles and suffering.”
The one to one support offered by Nepacs for young people is part of the regional Nepacs youth project which also offers support during visits to prison, outreach trips and residential activities and weekly virtual group activities.