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The Role of Schools in Supporting Families Affected by Imprisonment

Sarah Roberts is the Manager of Families Outside’s Child & Family Support Team, developing support for children whose parents are in prison.

Nancy Loucks is the Chief Executive of Families Outside. Before this, she worked as an Independent Criminologist

With its roots in direct work with three children in an Edinburgh high school who were struggling at school as a result of their mother’s long-term prison sentence, this article addresses the following questions:
          Why are schools generally unaware of which children are affected by imprisonment?
          How can staff actively support children and their carers through the school system?
          In what ways can imprisoned parents continue to engage in their children’s education?
          This article provides an overview of the main issues relating to schools and parental imprisonment, gives an account of best practice from research in Australia and the United States, and concludes with a set of proposals for further development work in this field. It also places the work in context of wider initiatives to support children and families affected by imprisonment in Scotland and how support in schools is helping to take this work forward.
          The article highlights the need for a coordinated approach between education, criminal justice, social work, and NGOs so that some of society’s most vulnerable children are recognised and appropriately, and sensitively, supported. Underpinned by the guiding principle that ‘schools provide a major opportunity to support children of incarcerated parents and to help meet their needs’ (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion 2011), the Report’s key findings include:
          Training for teachers around issues of imprisonment, and its effects on children, is essential;
          Information and support for children affected should be available in all schools; and
          An imprisoned parent can still play a key role in their child’s education, even from behind bars.

(2015) Vol 32 Law in Context p126

   
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