Outcomes for children affected by maternal imprisonment

Outcomes for children affected by maternal imprisonment: One child’s feelings and experiences of maternal imprisonment and re-unification

A case study – Listening to John

A project worker recently met a delightful and articulate 5 year old boy and listened to some of his feelings and experiences of being separated from his mother at the age of two with whom he is now re-united.

John (name changed) told me in his own words how he felt about being separated from his mum and going to live with his granny when mum went to prison. He said poignantly that when he went to live with his granny whom he didn’t really know well “I felt sad, but then I got less sad and less sad” as he got used to living with his granny and established an attachment with her. He recalled changing from his nursery to school and painstakingly recalled all the names of his friends at the school he attended. He doesn’t remember much about visiting his mum in prison which was a long way away (60+ miles each way) and for a while the prison visits ceased. His mother informed me that after 6 months of no contact, she got home leave – 5 days leave per month – which she spent with John.

John recalled moving back to live with his mum and this time he missed his granny and his school friends. He changed to a new school where he is beginning to make new friends (all of whom were named by John). He likes his new bedroom and having his own TV, but found the move to his current home difficult. He was upset that he had to have a new bed as he missed his old bed and other items of furniture. His feelings of insecurity and having to cope with all the changes in his life, whilst still present are reducing as he adjusts into his new home with his mum. Mum and granny acknowledge they both love John and that he has a strong bond with both of them. As a result of this they have organised that whilst he lives with mum he continues to stay with his granny on a regular basis at weekends. Also mum and granny’s shared love of John has made their relationship stronger.

Mum has explained to John about her offence and imprisonment in a way that is appropriate for his age and she fully expects he will ask more questions as he grows up. Mum felt she wanted to tell him herself, rather than him finding out from someone else, she sees this is part of the honest, loving relationship she wants to establish with her son.

If anyone knows of a child or young person who has been separated from their mother through imprisonment and they would be happy to express their feelings and experiences please contact me. The more we listen to children’s experiences of maternal imprisonment or separation through the criminal justice system, the more we will be able to develop more effective services and support for these children and their families/caregivers.

Sue Payne (Re-Unite Development Worker)


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