I have recently spoken to the projects who are part of the Re-Unite programme and some emerging themes were identified which impacted on re-uniting children with their mothers.
One of the most significant barriers was the lack of suitable affordable housing for families. It has become increasingly difficult to access 2+ bedroomed accommodation nationally. The housing, if available was in poor condition or not near to social support networks and children’s schools. This is unlikely to improve in the near future with the national shortage of housing, which is particularly acute in London.
Another issue that was raised by projects was the fast tracking of children for adoption or the increased use of Special Guardianship Orders combined with limited access to legal advice and support for mothers. One project felt that mothers signed special guardianship orders without understanding the full legal implications i.e. they remain legally the child’s parents, though their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is limited.
Some Re-Unite projects had difficulty accessing mothers in prison to undertake the Re-Unite assessment and pre release support. This role and remit had in some cases become more difficult or less clear following the changes in prison and resettlement contracts under the transforming and rehabilitation structural changes within the criminal justice system. It was noted that in many areas resettlement contacts did not include any provision for gender specific support.
The issues I have highlighted are a result of wider policy agendas. However, it is important that they are addressed through strategic change through organisations like Women’s Breakout who can provide the collective voices of women working with women in the criminal justice system.
Sue Payne, Re-Unite Development Worker