Lottery helps strengthen family ties across prison 'walls'

18 Jun 2013 02:10 PM

A project aiming to improve the lives of families affected by fathers in prison has been given almost £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund today.

Hampshire-based Spurgeons will work to strengthen relationships with the aim of reduce offending among prisoners on release, and also reduce the risk of their children entering the criminal justice system, being statistically three times more likely to commit anti-social behaviour than their peers.

The initiative is one of 72 projects receiving Good Causes funding today across the country, totalling almost £19 million.

According to Spurgeons, around 200,000 children every year experience a parent being sent to prison. Particularly among boys, these children represent a vulnerable group who are also at risk of offending as they grow up. Families often experience stigma and social exclusion as a result of a family member’s imprisonment and are therefore less likely to seek the help and support they need. According to the Ministry of Justice, children of prisoners are three times more likely to commit antisocial or delinquent behaviour compared to their peers.  In addition, fathers are six times less likely to reoffend if they have strong family relationships (NOMS, Centre for Social Justice and the Prison Reform Trust report, 2002).

The Invisible Walls project receiving Good Causes funding today, will support families of prisoners and fathers in custody to develop and maintain positive relationships. It has been developed in close partnership with staff at HMP Winchester, where it is recognised as a key element of reducing the risk of fathers reoffending upon release and breaking cycles of intergenerational crime. Uniquely, Invisible Walls offers integrated support to families visiting during custody, including putting them in touch with local services, and providing targeted parenting support to fathers in prison. This approach has been seen to significantly strengthen families and help build positive relationships with services that can help them.

A father who participated in the project said: “I believe I have learnt more tools to become a better dad in the past four weeks, than in my entire nine years of being a parent.”

A prisoner’s partner said: “This visiting centre is the best that I have come across. It has made it a fantastic and friendly atmosphere to bring children who have travelled for hours to visit their family members. Without this, it puts the family through an unpleasant experience more than needed, as they are not the ones who should be punished.” 

Tim Jeffery, CEO of Spurgeons, said: “Spurgeons is absolutely delighted to have been awarded such a significant grant from the Big Lottery Fund for our groundbreaking work with fathers who are in prison and their families. Through our wide-ranging work with families and the criminal justice system, we know that children of prisoners have the worst outcomes of any group of children and young people.  Families with a member in prison are often ostracised from their communities and the relationship between the father in prison and the rest of the family can become strained and, in some cases, unworkable. 

“Our innovative Invisible Walls project seeks to address these issues by providing support for the children and families both in their community and when they visit the prison.  We also signpost them to other support facilities as well as working with fathers to enable them to maintain positive and healthy relationships with their children. This work helps to keep together families that might otherwise become separated.  We are very proud of this work, supporting some of the most vulnerable and invisible members of society and we are very grateful to the Big Lottery Fund for enabling this work to continue and to grow.”

Also receiving funding today is The Children’s Society, which has been granted more than half a million pounds to help prevent vulnerable children across Tyne and Wear from falling prey to sexual exploitation. The charity will use its £563,581 grant to support young people who go missing from home as a result of conflict with parents, bullying or because they have been groomed by older men who pull them into dangerous, chaotic and unhealthy lifestyles. Children who go missing or stay out overnight can be at risk of physical and sexual assault, sleeping rough, being involved in crime, substance misuse and risky sexual behaviour.

The SCARPA project will improve the young people’s mental, physical and sexual health and help them develop life skills to establish positive peer groups. Staff will conduct ‘return interviews’ with young people who have been missing from home or school and keep in touch with text messages. Educational sessions on positive relationships, grooming and alcohol misuse will help prevent the young people from vanishing again. Those who progress well will have the chance to join the ‘SCARPA Squad’ – a group run by the young people themselves who have made presentations to hundreds of professionals.

SCARPA Programme Manager Richard Haigh said: “This grant means we will be able to develop our work in Newcastle with young people who go missing and are at risk of sexual exploitation. In our experience, these young people are often quietly desperate for some help and continually at risk due to the difficult situations they find themselves in. This grant will help provide young people with one-to-one help when they need it and also fund a chance to be part of the SCARPA Squad - a group of young people who've overcome their problems and want to help others.

“Without the type of help SCARPA can offer, young people can end up sleeping rough, becoming involved in substance and alcohol misuse and being sexually exploited. This grant offers them the chance to become safer and to have better childhoods.&rdquo

And the Young Minds Trust will spend its Lottery grant of almost £375,000 on expanding their young people’s project Reaching Out To Achieve Resilience, which will strive to improve mental health and its services for children and young people across England. It will be run and championed by around 5,000 young people aged 14-25, working in dedicated task groups with specific targets, supported by a small staff team based in London, Leeds and Exeter. The project will enable young people to develop a charter for change and campaign for organisations to implement it, aiming to improve mental health services and raise the public profile of young people's mental health issues.

Today’s funding comes from the Fund’s Reaching Communities programme which awards grants ranging from £10,000 to £500,000 to communities most in need.

Nat Sloane, Big Lottery Fund England Chair, said: “The Big Lottery Fund is committed to supporting projects that enable children and young people to lead happy and fulfilled lives, especially initiatives which intervene with targeted support when problems are at a manageable level before allowing them to escalate further.

“Whether faced with an unstable family life, mental health problems or other complex needs, we want to improve life for these young people. I am confident today’s £19m investment from our Reaching Communities programme will help pave the way for brighter futures across the country.”

See a full list of the 72 Reaching Communities grants announced today

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Notes to Editors

• The Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.
• The Fund is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since its inception in 2004 BIG has awarded close to £6bn.
• The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.
• Since the National Lottery began in 1994, 28p from every pound spent by the public has gone to good causes. As a result, over £30 billion has now been raised and more than 400,000 grants awarded across arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment.