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How we’re making sure children are seen and heard

BLOGS | 15th May 2024
Headshot of Sarah Beresford, smiling

Prison Reform Trust Associate Sarah Beresford outlines how Perth and Kinross Council is leading the way in ensuring children with a parent in the justice system get the support they need

“If I’d had set questions like these to ask me how I was feeling and how I was doing, it would’ve been a lot better for me… It would’ve really helped me.”  Ellie (not her real name) was 14 when her father was unexpectedly arrested, held on remand, and subsequently sentenced. She told me how a new support system where she would have been asked about her feelings through a Child Impact Assessment would have really helped back then.

Ellie and her nine-year-old brother were offered no support despite experiencing significant trauma when witnessing their father’s arrest, grief and loss when he was imprisoned, and a sense of shame and stigma when the newspapers printed their father’s name and the family address.

Not only did the children not receive support, they also had to endure at best unhelpful, and often nasty, comments on social media about their father. Sometimes these comments mentioned Ellie and her brother by name; the bullying at school became so bad that the family had to relocate.  

Ellie was one of an estimated 27,000 children in Scotland affected by parental imprisonment each year. It took several years before Ellie, now a young adult, accessed support from Families Outside, the only national charity that works solely on behalf of families in Scotland affected by imprisonment. Receiving support inspired Ellie to become an ambassador for change. I met her as part of my work on Child Impact Assessments, a framework which was co-created with young people like Ellie to ensure children with a parent in the justice system are listened to, supported, and included in decision-making about that support. This work is laid out in the “This is me” toolkit, published by the Prison Reform Trust in December 2023.

The exterior of HMP Perth
There are plans to make sure children receive proper support if they have a parent in prison

Underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989), which was incorporated into Scots Law in December 2023, Child Impact Assessments are not about assessing children, rather their needs. Nor are they about the parent in the justice system; instead, the focus is on the child and their feelings. Importantly, Child Impact Assessments are not a statutory procedure; they are offered to children with the aim of providing support, and they can be used by a wide range of practitioners who support children, for example teachers and other school staff, social workers, and youth workers.

Perth and Kinross Council has listened to the plea of young people like Ellie. In partnership with Families Outside, and funded by the UNCRC Corra Innovation Fund, a council-wide project was launched in April 2024 to ensure families impacted by imprisonment receive support at the earliest opportunity. Central to the project, which is rooted in children’s rights, is the use of Child Impact Assessments. During 2024, a wide range of stakeholders will receive training on the impact of imprisonment on children and their families. 

Awareness will be raised about the Child Impact Assessment toolkit, giving the opportunity for a guided conversation to be offered to children and young people in Perth and Kinross.

Eleanor Lindsay, Community Justice Quality Improvement Team Leader in Perth and Kinross Council, is overseeing the project. She said: “Key to this project is high level ‘buy-in’ from management teams across all sectors. Children and young people with a family member in the justice system often report feeling not seen and not heard, even though they are not guilty. We want to change that narrative within Perth and Kinross to one where children and young people with a family member in the justice system have their rights realised.”

I am hopeful that this vision will inspire other councils across Scotland to act. Action is exactly what young people want. They don’t need another report telling us what we already know. They need something to change. For Ellie, this is what makes all the difference. She said: “Just knowing that I am part of something that could change things for other kids, that’s amazing. It’s actually life changing.”  That’s what it means to be seen and heard.