Visiting mothers in prison

7 September 2017

Young girl hugs mother's leg

A scheme helping Welsh children to visit their mothers in prison is easing anxiety in female prisoners and increasing contact with their families.

A recent study conducted at Cardiff University has examined the impact of the Visiting Mum scheme which assists Welsh children with visiting their mothers in prison.

With no women only prisons in Wales, female prisoners from South Wales are incarcerated at HMP Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire. This increased distance between mother and child and associated costs and time pressures on carers can result in reduced visiting by children.

The Visiting Mum scheme, run by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact) in partnership with Sova, operates using volunteers who work with individual families to prepare carers and children for visiting Eastwood Park and transporting children and their carers to the prison.

Visiting Mum allows for private visits in an appropriate space, and relaxed visiting rules which allow mothers to interact with their children and have a better quality visit.

Improving the mental and physical health of children

The scheme, which has worked with 97 mothers and 164 children, was found to improve the mental and physical health of the children, reduce their anxiety and help children to feel less intimidated by the prison environment.

Dr Alyson Rees, Dr Eleanor Staples and Dr Nina Maxwell of Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences found that mothers who utilised the scheme reported improved mental health, reduced levels of anxiety, and less instances of self-harm.

Data was gathered using conversations and group sessions; interviews with mothers both during their time in HMP Eastwood Park and after their release; interviews with carers and the scheme’s volunteers; and conversations with children. Children also used sandboxes and toys to illustrate their experience of visiting their mother in prison.

The exact number of children affected by maternal imprisonment is unknown but the Prison Reform Trust estimated that in 2015, 66% of women in prison had dependent children under the age of 18, and at least 20% were lone parents before entering custody.

In 2010 it was estimated that more than 17,240 children were separated from their mothers through imprisonment, and that only 9% of those children were cared for by their fathers during this period.

Dr Alyson Rees said of the study: “We found the Visiting Mum scheme to be a vital service which is highly valued by children, mothers and carers…”

“We are hopeful that evidence gathered during our study will encourage further funding of the service and ensure that children in Wales continue to receive the support they need.”

Dr Alyson Rees, Senior Lecturer

The project was made possible thanks to a £522,149 grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Big Innovation Programme.

The study will be launched at Cardiff University on Thursday 7 September. For more information and to register please contact cascade@cardiff.ac.uk.

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