Children on the Edge: children affected by maternal imprisonment

Children on the Edge: children affected by maternal imprisonment
This work has been funded by Commonweal Housing. In 2014 Women’s Breakout partnered with Anawim Women’s Centre to host the Re-Unite network and identify the on-going challenges for women and their children when separation has occurred as a result of maternal imprisonment. The Re-Unite network members provided valuable contributions to our understanding of the woman’s perspective, but we also wanted to highlight the social injustice that occurs for children when their mother is imprisoned. This report is part of our collaborative effort, and while the study is small in scale, it illustrates the need to take full account of the impact of maternal imprisonment on children.

‘Children affected by parental imprisonment are some of the most vulnerable; their voices go unheard and their needs frequently unmet.’ (Barnados Report 2014)

Because there have been few empirical studies on the effects of maternal imprisonment there is an unanswered question about the real outcomes for children when their mother goes to prison. Parental imprisonment can cause strong reactions in children that can develop into unhappiness, annoyance, anxiety, loss, an increase of risks to development, and disruption in the mother child relationship, and other family relationships (eg sibling). Many children suffer from instability and insecurity, self-blame, rejection, guilt and feelings of deception.

Children frequently feel loss and uncertainty stemming from the emotional and economic change. Where there is no one to take care of a child after the arrest of a parent, the child’s world often changes beyond comprehension – they may need to stay with relatives for a considerable time, or be taken into care by social services; their social networks are affected; their school life may change. In extreme circumstances, children maybe left completely on their own for a time and uncertain what is going to happen to them.

Visiting arrangements can be practically challenging and upsetting, but lack of privacy and restrictions on physical contact during prison visits increase the difficulty in maintaining parent child relationships.

It is clear that imprisonment can produce severe negative consequences for children; and of course every child is different and every child’s experience is unique.

Jackie Russell, Director of Women’s Breakout


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