Impact of imprisonment on parents/carers
Whenever a parent is sent to prison, the whole family network has new responsibilities to deal with - the parent left at home, the parent in prison, the child and their wider network of support.
The parent left at home
At a time when they may be least able to cope themselves, further pressure is placed on the parent left at home in dealing with the experiences and reactions of the children.
I am seen as a young single mum and not taken seriously.
(Mother and partner of a 'lifer' describing talking to her daugter's school)
Parents and carers suffer the same range of feelings as their children, with additional concerns about finances. Many parents left at home feel isolated within their local community or have had to move away from friends and family. This isolation is particularly common where the case has been high-profile and reported in the local media.
Research undertaken by Ormiston Families (Prisoners' Families: the everyday reality, Caroline Noble, 1995. Sentenced Families, Gill Pugh, 2004) shows that many parents and carers experience:
- grief, due to the loss of a partner or loved one
- anger, both at the prisoner and at the authorities/local community
- anxiety for the prisoner, for their own future and for their children
- frustration that they cannot do more to help the prisoner and/or support their children
- mental illness, including anxiety and depression
- a sudden and/or steep drop in income
- new financial demands such as travel costs of prison visits and purchasing items for the prisoner
- new responsibilities in the home
- poor physical health such as insomnia and headaches
- isolation and hostility from within the local community
- moving house to a new area.
The parent in prison
For the imprisoned parent there is often a feeling of helplessness. A parent in prison is completely reliant on the support of others - including the child's carer, family, friends and professionals (including those inside the prison) - in maintaining any kind of parental role.
Going to prison does not legally affect parental responsibility - but the reality may feel like it.
Prisoners are part of their children's lives - we still take an interest. It's important to understand that our children are affected, that they do care and miss their parent.
I want to be there for them - financially, emotionally and physically. I want them to be what they want to be.