Case study: Parenting programme for young imprisoned dads

14 May 2009

What: ‘You and Your Child’ parenting programme for fathers who are prisoners
Who: Ormiston Children & Families Trust, accredited by the National Open College Network Where: Eight prisons in Eastern England
When: Programme first accredited 2004

In the UK there are an estimated 160,000 children who have a parent (in the vast majority of cases, a father) in prison. Research shows that being a child of a prisoner can have a serious impact on children’s wellbeing:

  •   Some children are traumatised by separation, and some reject their father. Children born around the time of imprisonment may not have a relationship with their father
  •   Regular contact between children and fathers may be difficult. Prisoners are not always in locations that are easy for families to reach. Many parents – mothers and fathers – do not want their children to go into a prison environment for visits
  •   Children of prisoners often have low self-esteem and may feel rejected by their parent in prison. They may be ostracised or bullied by other children. This may lead to challenging behaviour, poor performance at school, and other mental health issues.

The Ormiston’s ‘You and Your Child’ programme

The Ormiston Children & Families Trust works to support children and young people affected by imprisonment. They do this in different ways including visitors’ centres, Children’s Visits, support for families and the accredited parenting programme ‘You and Your Child’.

The programme is delivered in eight prisons in Eastern England by Ormiston trainers. All prisoners can apply to go on the programme, providing they have security clearance by the prison. Since 2006, 500 prisoners and 50 young offenders aged 18 to 21 have embarked on the programme.

Programme Manager Bev Alden says: ‘Helping prisoners who are fathers, or about to become fathers, to understand their role as parents and to learn essential parenting skills, is fundamental to our work. We believe this strengthens the family bond and will help prevent reoffending. Ultimately, the children will benefit from having closer ties with their parents and crucially, parents in prison learn to value their role as parents. Hopefully, this will deter them from further criminal activity after their release.’

Why imprisoned dads need support

It is not always easy for prisoners who are fathers to keep in touch with their children. Visits are short and usually not family-friendly. Prisoners may feel guilty that they have let their children down by being in prison and that they are not there to provide for them. For some men it is easier to cut themselves off from their families than deal with their feelings about being a father in prison.

The course made it possible to still feel like a father even though I’m inside and not getting visits.’

‘Me and my kids are a lot closer now and I understand them a lot more.’

Reducing re-offending

One of the key aims of the Ormiston parenting programme is to boost the self-confidence and feelings of self-worth of the men, with the long-term aim of reducing their chances of reoffending. By helping them identify themselves and feel better about themselves as fathers and partners, and improving the contact they have with their families while they are in prison – even if this is only by phone or letter – the hope is that family life and responsibilities will be more important to them when they come out of prison, and that they will not risk being imprisoned again. Although some men acknowledge that this is harder to achieve once outside prison again, the programme can have a positive influence on their attitudes towards release.

I’m absolutely certain I’ll never come to prison again, I’m determined about that!’

‘I was in there for drugs, I’m not going to do that again. It made me realise I’ve got something positive to come out to.’

‘All my concentration will go on my little boy, there’ll be less time to get in trouble.’

What does the programme cover?

The parenting programme has three modules (plus a T-learning module (learning in-cell by television) developed for use at HMP Littlehey).

  •   Child Development, Play and Behaviour – aims to support fathers in building positive relationships with their children, focusing on the importance of listening to and negotiating with their children and young people, setting boundaries for behaviour and taking a consistent and positive approach to parenting
  •   Safety and Health for your Child – introduces practical ways of keeping children safe and healthy, including knowing about hazards, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep and exercise
  •   Distance and Communication – enables fathers to consider ways of maintaining a relationship with their children while they are in prison by making the most of visits, letters and phone calls.

What impact does the programme have on fathers in prison?

  •   The programme helps to improve the quality of the men’s contact with their children – it helps them to understand better how children develop and feel, and to see why this is important.

‘Taught me how to go down to a child’s level and understand their point of view.’

I’m able to relate to my child better and talk to her more.’

  •   It helps some fathers to appreciate the value of contact for their children. For example, after the programme some Dads started engaging more with their children during visits, rather than just sitting talking to their partner or wife while the children played.

‘You think more, make more effort, for instance now I get her mum to bring her to the phone so I can talk to her.’

‘I’ve got more time, I’m more aware. I need to be building a bond with him for when I get out.’

  •   Several fathers realise for the first time that being a good dad does not mean spending money on their children. Fathers in prison sometimes defend their past crimes by saying that they needed to provide for their children – they could only be good dads if they gave their children expensive toys and clothes. The programme helps them see that it is more important to give children attention and time.

‘I realised I should spend more time with my child – it’s not just money they need, it’s my attention.’

  •   The programme helps some Dads reassess their responsibilities towards their families. Some of them realise that they haven’t been supportive and respectful of their partners and children.

I have more respect for them, as people – I respect their feelings. It has made me re-evaluate myself and my kids.’

‘I have great respect for her [the children’s mother] now. I just want to get out of here and be with them.’

  •   Learning about challenging behaviour and how to manage it helps some fathers to support their partners better. Some fathers are able to use the course give their partners ideas on dealing with children’s difficult behaviour.

He told me lots. At first, I thought he was just being a pushy dad, but the things he told me try with C really work!’ (Mother)

‘… He did pass on some things, for example, he told me not to shout as much at our daughter but to talk calmly – and it worked!’ (Mother)

  •   The programme encourages a more positive attitude towards learning and gives some men the confidence to go further.

I did literacy and numeracy before but this was the first major course. I hated school, but I love learning now. I’ve done other courses since – they’ve all been beneficial to me in some way.’

‘I felt nervous at first, but by the end I felt more confident. I’m doing Industrial Cleaning now.’

Further information

We are grateful to the Ormiston Children & Families Trust for permission to quote from the evaluation Inside Knowledge: An evaluation of Ormiston’s You and Your Child parenting programme, 2008. To download a copy of the evaluation click here.

To find out more about the ‘You and Your Child’ parenting programme contact Bev Alden, Programme Manager, Children and Young People Affected by Imprisonment, Ormiston Children & Families Trust.

The Fatherhood Institute’s Invisible Fathers resource pack contains lots of ideas and handouts to help you work better with young dads in a variety of settings.

For a summary of Fatherhood Institute research on young fathers click here.

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