Pilot scheme 'changing lives' of children with parents in prison

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Mary Stanley

A woman whose partner is currently in jail says a project offering her family extra support is already changing their lives.

Kayleigh was left with two confused children when their father was jailed six years ago.

She said: "I felt guilty for his crimes, I felt isolated, I felt like the world hated me and blamed me for what he'd done.

"The last time I saw my dad, I was 18 months old in a prison visiting room.

"Unfortunately I ended up in prison myself so I hope that with help from Children Heard and Seen, that my children don't go on to offend and end up in prison themselves.

"We're not responsible for his actions and I hope that the children will grow up and realise that."

Kayleigh is now studying to become a social worker and her children are doing well in school.

Kayleigh says her family has already benefitted from the scheme Credit: ITV News Meridian

The pilot scheme, being trialled in Oxford city centre, hopes to prevent young people being drawn into a future of crime.

For the first time they are able to use data from the prisons service to contact families and refer them to a dedicated charity called Children Heard and Seen.

The charity offers one to one help mentoring support groups and activity days.

It is hoped this can break the chain of offending and ensure children do not become victims of the parent's crime.

Sarah Burrows, Children Heard and Seen said: "Children just slip through the net, they're just not identified, we know it's an adverse childhood experience in terms of the trauma and everything they witness and yet the mechanisms aren't in place to capture, and this will just change things for children."

Research shows that children with a parent in prison are three times more likely to commit anti-social behaviour.

Also, 25% of children with a parent in prison are likely to develop mental health problems, play truant and underperform at school.

Sergeant Russ Massie, Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit said: "We know that there are a number of really traumatic incidents that can happen to children that then affect their lifestyle choices, can then affect offending behaviours, can affect physical health going forward.

"There's much worse outcomes for children who are affected, and parents in prison is actually one of the key adverse childhood experiences that actually lead to harm in later life.

"So it's really important that we intervene earlier to reduce the chances of young people coming to harm as they get older."

It is hoped the scheme will eventually be extended across Oxfordshire and then the whole of the Thames Valley, to help up to 200 families every year.