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Protecting children with parents in prison

A young boy on the road to depression has been given the tools to cope with the emotion of a parent being sent to prison.

The 11-year-old was struggling to cope when his father was jailed for six years for fraud.

He was shutting himself away in his bedroom and was quiet and emotional until he was referred to the Breaking Barriers project.

Breaking Barriers supports the children and families of prisoners in Essex.

Children attend up to eight one-to-one sessions working on setting goals to help them through the process of having a parent in prison – whether the sentence has just started, just finished, is for a few weeks or months or several years.

They learn about prison life, watch real footage of a prison, discuss their feelings about their relative being in prison, work on the child’s relationship with the person in prison if appropriate and focus on any behaviour issues – whatever the child wants to discuss.

The boy’s mum said: “Within the first couple of weeks of the sessions, my son completely changed. He has got his spark back; he is brighter. Over the eight weeks, I saw him come back to himself.

“We had been very open with him about what was going to happen, but he had not wanted to talk to me about how he was feeling for fear of upsetting me. He could speak to them about anything and everything and know it would not hurt me.

“He was given the techniques to cope with it all and responded really well.

“Without Breaking Barriers, I think he would have become quite depressed. He would have just withdrawn within himself. He would have said he was okay, but I don’t think I would have got any response out of him. He is a bubbly, positive boy and I would have hated to have seen that happen.

“This is such a good service. It made such a positive change to our family.”

Louise Duxbury, Breaking Barriers team leader, said: “The affect a parent going to prison has on a child and the rest of the family is horrendous. It is called the ‘hidden sentence’. People think about the person in prison, but it is those at home who might not have money or food on the table, or someone to take them to school.

“Sometimes, our work is around anger and sadness. Children do not want to speak to their parent who is at home as they feel they have enough worries of their own. They do not want to show they are sad or missing their other parent. We help them to deal with those emotions.

“At the end of our sessions, we meet with the parent at home and discuss what support we feel they need going forward. It is not a mediation service, but it does bring the family together.”

The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC), Roger Hirst, contributed £15,193 to Ormiston Families in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2019-2020 Community Safety Development Fund to expand the Breaking Barriers project to support more children and young people. This is in line with the Commissioner’s commitment to prevent crime, support victims and protect vulnerable people.

Louise said: “This work is amazing. I feel really privileged to be able to do this job.

“When we first walk into a room, the children often do not want to talk. We do not have a magic wand, but we show them it is okay to feel sad and that there is an adult they can talk to. At the end, they are happy to talk and we see them flourish.

“We really are making a difference. The funding we get is helping us to make an impact.”

Quick facts:

  • In 2018, the service worked with 18 children affected by imprisonment
  • Since the PFCC funding started in 2019, the service has received 85 referrals
  • In 2021, the team worked with 41 children and young people
  • More than 90% of children and young people have achieved their goals of improving their wellbeing, increasing their knowledge of prison and reducing negative behaviours caused by the anger, shame and confusion of having a relative in prison


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PFCC for Essex, Kelvedon Park, London Road, Rivenhall, Witham, Essex, CM8 3HB
01245 291600

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