Children of prisoners twice as likely to suffer mental health and poverty issues

CHILDREN in the North-East with a parent in prison are serving their own hidden sentence and need  help to improve their futures, it was agreed at the first dedicated event of its kind in the region.

There are about 9,000 youngsters across the region with a mum or dad behind bars and the outcomes for them is often significantly worse than for their peers.

Children of prisoners are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems and having an increased likelihood of experiencing poverty. In addition, research has shown that creating and encouraging healthy family contact between offenders and their families can reduce the likelihood of reoffending by up to six times.

A conference with more than 120 key professionals from across the North-East has been held for the first time to examine what needs to be done to support some of the region’s most vulnerable young people.

The event, attended by councils, probation, prison service, children’s services, education, health and the voluntary sector) was organised by the i-HOP service, a national organisation for professionals working with offenders’ children and families,  in partnership with Nepacs, a charity supporting prisoners and their families in the North-East).

Across England and Wales there are approximately 200,000 children of prisoners affected on average each year and 10,000 visits are made to public prisons every week by young people.

The event presented the real-life experiences of children affected by the taboo issue in the UK, Romania, Sweden and Germany through the findings of the European research project COPING (2013), led by the University of Huddersfield.

Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs, a north east charity supporting prisoners’ families, said: “I am delighted to partner with i-HOP in delivering this important opportunity to highlight the effect of parental imprisonment on children and their families.

“This is a particularly vulnerable group of children in the North-East who are deserving of our support and understanding – they cannot be blamed for their parent or relative’s actions. Nepacs welcomes the opportunity to work with others to look at how we can create the best possible futures for them.”

Rebecca Cheung, senior i-HOP engagement officer, said: “Children of offenders often have to serve their own ‘hidden sentence’ as a result of a family member entering the criminal justice system – yet they have not committed a crime themselves.

“Although this is not an issue that is regularly discussed or identified – there are significant numbers of children affected – over twice the number of children are affected by parental imprisonment every year than divorce.”

Rebecca Cheung

“Research increasingly highlights the negative impact that parental imprisonment can have on their outcomes: mental wellbeing, relationships with their peers, educational attainment, behaviour and financial stability.

“It is essential therefore, that local authorities develop multi-agency responses to supporting these children and their families, so that they are able to achieve to the best of their potential and the cycle of intergenerational offending that we often see is broken down.”

Rob Brown, head of stronger communities at Middlesbrough Council, added:”Events like this are so important. The outcomes for children with parents in prison are often significantly worse than for their peers and a key part of the solution is to facilitate healthy family contact between offenders and their families. Councils, supported by organisations such as Nepacs and i-HOP, play a key role in making this happen.”


Nepacs: Website                                         Email:

Twitter:  @nepacsinfo

i-HOP has been developed and delivered by POPS (Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group) and Barnardo’s in partnership, funded by the Department for Education.

Website:                                                        Twitter: @barnardos_ihop