Tackling the inter-generational cycle of offending by promoting parent-child relationships

Published: 10 Oct 2016

Tackling the inter-generational cycle of offending by promoting parent-child relationships

It is estimated that there are 200,000 children affected by parental imprisonment in England and Wales (1). Moreover, 35% of prisoners themselves had a family member in prison when they were a child, compared to 16% of the general population (2). Bronagh Malcomson has recently returned to the UK after four weeks travelling in Croatia, Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy, investigating ways of tackling the inter-generational cycle of offending by promoting parent-child relationships. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award.

Bronagh is a Parenting Support Worker with Parenting Matters, Barnardo’s, from Banbridge, County Down in Northern Ireland. She is based in Hydebank Wood College in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s only prison dedicated to female prisoners and young offenders. She wanted to use her Fellowship to focus on the ‘hidden victims’ of imprisonment, and to see how other countries are working to support children who are separated from a parent.

Bronagh visited family focused organisations and prisons, and met with many imprisoned parents, families and children. She witnessed some outstanding practice: Relais Enfants Parents in Belgium and Exodus in the Netherlands provide additional visits for imprisoned parents, which are solely between them and their child, allowing for a focus on maintaining parent-child relationships without the distraction of other visitors; Bambinisenzasbarre in Italy provide safe, friendly spaces for children to play and create artwork in the company of their parent, away from the often chaotic environment of a prison visit waiting room.

“I feel privileged to have seen first-hand the great work conducted by these organisations. It was easy to recognise the affection, care, warmth, pride, guilt and shame experienced by fathers who were being visited by their children. I witnessed men smile with glee at seeing their children's faces at the start of a visit and cry when they had to say good bye” –Bronagh Malcomson

Now she has returned to the UK, Bronagh is keen to share her learning and ideas with Barnardo’s UK and Northern Ireland Prison Service, in order to help sustain and promote the need for maintaining family relationships, and in particular parent-child relationships to tackle the inter-generational cycle of offending. She will be speaking at workshops in order to disseminate her learning to other professionals, and will look to implement tools and resources she learnt about during her Fellowship. She will also be writing a report based on her findings.