Prisons report highlights child safety concerns

A new report has highlighted the increasingly complex needs and safeguarding concerns faced by children with a parent in prison and the importance of putting networks in place to support children when visiting a parent in prison.

The report, published by national children’s charity Spurgeons, says the prison visiting environment has a vital role to play in supporting children and young people by providing an opportunity to identify those at risk.

Spurgeons delivers almost 100 child-centred services across England including the London Prisons Visiting Service on behalf of the National Offender Management Service.

It supported more than 36,000 visits by children to prisons last year, allowing parents to maintain the all-important bond with their children through a range of activities such as supervised play, meals and family days. However, it also came across numerous safeguarding incidents which may not have otherwise been picked up by authorities.

Nationally, the charity acted on more than 500 safeguarding incidents to protect children last year.  These situations resulted in Spurgeons working in close liaison with the prison visit teams, prison Public Protection Units, local authorities, as well as the police and courts if necessary, until it was established that the child was safe.

Some of the most extreme safeguarding concerns arising from its work in London prisons. A review of safeguarding incidents recorded in the London Prisons Visiting Service between 2012 and 2014 showed:

  • 19% related to a child with presenting injuries.
  • 19% involved a child left unattended by their parent or carer in the Visitors’ Centre.
  • 38% resulted in referral to local authority children’s services.
  • 65% related to abuse witnessed by staff or disclosed by the child during the visit.
  • 69% related to children aged five or under
  • 27% occurred on a weekend.

Also, in 80% of the referrals made to children’s services following a safeguarding concern during prison visits, the family was already known to the relevant authorities – but until Spurgeons staff made contact, authorities were often not aware that there were current concerns about the child’s welfare.

Spurgeons chief executive Ross Hendry said: “If Spurgeons’ prison visiting service was not a proactive, child-focused service these issues may not have come to light – resulting in missed opportunities to help children at risk of harm.

“This report highlights that children passing through Visitors’ Centres can be highly vulnerable with complex needs and safeguarding concerns that can be overlooked. High quality services can pick these up early and if those services are not in place children are being left at risk in the short and long term.

“Alongside visits, providers must also build specialist partnership networks such as with local authorities, Citizens Advice Bureaus, the Samaritans and churches, to ensure child welfare is at the forefront of service delivery.”

The publication of this review comes during Prisons Week, which aims to raise awareness of those affected by the criminal justice system.

To download the report, visit Spurgeons’ website at www.spurgeons.org