We spoke to Sarah Beresford, Prison Reform Trust Associate and Churchill Fellow, about piloting a new assessment framework for supporting children who have a mother in the criminal justice system.
In September 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published their report into the right to family life of children whose mothers are in custody. The report highlighted the serious and detrimental impact that having a mother in prison has on a child. An updated report was published in 2021 with specific recommendations for the upcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Committee urged the Government to recognise that “when a mother is sentenced to prison, children themselves receive their own sentence to serve”. The report recommends that judges should consider the impact of a sentence on a child where the defendant is a primary caregiver. The Child Impact Assessment is a framework which aims to understand the impact on the child when their primary carer (usually their mother) is involved in the criminal justice system (CJS), ensure that children are listened to at every stage of their mother’s journey through the CJS, and that they are meaningfully and appropriately involved in decisions about their care and support needs.
The Child Impact Assessment has been developed by Prison Reform Trust Associate, Sarah Beresford, and co-created with women supported by the Merseyside Women’s Services Alliance, children supported by Time-Matters UK, and staff from Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership’s Family Matters. The framework consists of information for children and a set of child-friendly questions which aim to identify how children are feeling, and what support they might need at any stage of the criminal justice system (arrest, court and sentencing, community or prison sentences, and release). The framework also comprises background information for any professional who might be completing the CIA with a child.
The pilot project has received initial funding of an Activate grant from the Churchill Fellowship to test and evaluate the implementation of the assessment framework. This will be done by using the Child Impact Assessment directly with children who have (current or recent) experience of a mother in the criminal justice system and through a series of conversations and roundtable discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including several UK charities and organisations that support families affected by imprisonment, a range of statutory agencies (e.g. police, sentencers, probation staff, social workers, teachers, health professionals), as well as mothers and children with lived experience, to consider how the CIA might best support children. The project will also collaborate with policy-influencing organisations to consider how the CIA might be embedded into existing processes and with academics to ensure the CIA is underpinned by robust research.
The pilot will take place between September 2021 and March 2022 and will be tested in multiple contexts throughout the UK. Examples of how the CIA might be tested include: a social worker in Bristol using the assessment with a child whose mother is awaiting trial; a London Women’s Centre obtaining feedback from 4 mothers in prison on how the assessment could help their children; and a Family Link Officer in Northern Ireland using the assessment with the children of women prior their release. While it’s unlikely that it will be possible to capture the journey of any one child through each stage of the CJS, it is hoped that it will be possible to obtain sufficient feedback on the Child Impact Assessment for each stage through their use in a variety of contexts.
Feedback will be collated during April and May 2022 and Sarah plans to publish a final report with evidence-based, deliverable recommendations in June 2022. Following the initial pilot project, Sarah’s aim is that there will be a robust and carefully evaluated Child Impact Assessment that can be used widely at all stages of the criminal justice system. Ultimately, she hopes that Child Impact Assessments will help children to build resilience to deal with the trauma, grief and stigma that are often felt when a mother is involved in the criminal justice system.
This case-study was compiled by Suzanne Smith in 2021.