Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Untold story of child victims of crime

Children are finishing up innocent victims of crime, when their parents are imprisoned leaving them behind to be cared for by relatives or to be taken into care by social services The scandal of so many children being torn away from their parents with no concern for their well being was exposed at a Parliamentary meeting, chaired by Labour MP Andy Burnham and organised by Pact and Grandparents Plus. Grandmother Annie told of the shock when her daughter was sentenced, leaving her two daughters with nowhere to go. "It was a shock, no one believed she'd be sentenced. We thought she'd come home to the children so there was nothing prepared. We had to go home and tell the children that Mum was not coming back," said Annie. "There were tears and there still are tears, four years later. I don't think they will ever recover." Annie described her two grand daughters as "victims of a system that doesn't care." "It's not just the courts, there's social services - there is no one there to help," said Annie, who told how no one mentioned the children in court. "I phoned social services and they said they'd provide £50." "If I hadn't taken the role they would have been taken into care," said Annie. Cassie finished up looking after the three children of her sister. "There was no support on the criminal side. I don't think the court was aware of the children," said Cassie. "When we asked for support we never got it. The children's services failed to provide anything. "We were the family of the perpetrator not the victims, yet the kids had done nothing wrong," said Cassie. The case involving her sister received a lot of media coverage. "At one point we had to move two hundred miles to get away from the media. We were sworn at and spat at on the street. The kids were bullied in school. We couldn't deal with it on a daily basis. We preferred to go somewhere where we were not known and could make a fresh start," said Cassie, who also had to bring up her own two kids as well, who she describes as "caught in the cross fire." There are around 160,000 children with a parent in prison each year. More than 60% of women prisoners are mothers and 45% had children living with them at the time of imprisonment. 25% of men in young offenders institutions are or are shortly to become fathers. Andy Keen Downs, director of Pact, told how the organisation first came across the problem when running its First Night in Custody programme at Holloway Prison. "We found that when the mother was in prison, it was the grandparents, sisters and friends rather than partners caring for the children," said Mr Keen Downs. "Half the women who had children were not saying they did." Of those who did declare they had children, 34% were being cared for by grandparents, 27% by the father and 10% by social services. Mr Keen Downs declared that there are gaps in the system. "There is a lack of a joined up system to record whether there are children. There is no statutory duty on the courts to check if children or vulnerable adults are involved and if there are whether care needs to be provided," said Mr Keen Downs. Sarah Wellard from Grandparents Plus added: “All too often grandparents, aunts and other family members are left to pick up the pieces on their own. It is vital that children’s services treat these children as “in need” and help their carers to access support.” Alan Lowe, a magistrate in Wigan and Leigh, has been campaigning on this issue for nine years, after Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly asked him to look into the matter for him. Archbishop Kelly had noticed the children without parents at the school gates when making pastoral visits around the diocese. "On one occasion I recall being told your not a social worker, it's your job to sentence," said Mr Lowe, who told how recently a headteacher left at 10 at night with a child, trying to find out where the mother was. "Things have got to change. Health, education and local government have got to come together and co-operate," said Mr Lowe, who believes providing the support will prevent so many problems in the future that will come from the kids having screwed up lives. Richard Monkhouse, chair elect of the Magistrates Association, agreed that there has to be a statutory requirement brought in to ensure that children are dealt with. Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of Prisons, gave his support for a statutory provision being brought in that will force the authorities to take children into account when a parent is sent to prison. Mr Burnham highlighted how when a child goes through this process the odds are stacked against them. "Things will never be the same again. We could minimise the damage if we thought more holistically," said Mr Burnham, who referred to the likely mental health damage being done to children put into this position. "They are more likely to suffer mental health issues at the time or later in life," said Mr Burnham who agreed to take the matter forward on an all party basis. This would involve attempting to attain an amendment to the Anti-social behaviour crime and policing bill. This would involve a plan needing to be produced ahead of sentencing, addressing the issue of children and vulnerable adults. "We will explore the legislative opportunities to bring an amendment forward. A plan needs to be put in place for agreement of all the related bodies, so everyone knows where they stand. How can it be right that the children end up being the collateral damage?" said Mr Burnham.

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