The chief executive of prison charity Pact has renewed his call for a statutory duty to be imposed on the courts to check on the care and welfare needs of any child or dependent adult left behind when an individual is imprisoned.
Addressing the All Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs Andy Keen Downs pointed out that 100,000 children have at least one parent in prison, with double that number likely to undergo the same experience over the next year "I believe that it is in the clear public interest to ensure that parents and carers left behind should have sufficient information and support to enable them to care adequately for any children or dependents, who were previously being cared for by the person taken into custody. There is no such safety net as things stand," said Mr Keens Down.
Pact has brought forward a number of examples of the parents of children being imprisoned with no provision being made to care for the children. This has seen children left at the gates of schools, waiting for parents that fail to appear because they have been incarcerated.
As part of the Families Left Behind campaign, Mr Keen Downs had been seeking to get an amendment inserted in the Anti Social Behaviour Bill that would have imposed such a duty. Lords Ramsbotham and Touhig endeavoured to insert such amendment but it failed to materialise because time ran out on the Bill.
"Our appeal remains the same however – which is that a new statutory duty be created on the courts to ensure that a simple check be made following the decision to place someone in custody. We simply want to ensure that there is adequate care and support in place for children or dependent /at-risk adults, that we are not placing them at risk of harm by removing a parent or carer, and that safe short term care arrangements are in place. Our proposal therefore is that there be an open question in court. We have drafted wording for this," said Mr Keen Downs.There are around 200,000 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.
- also see - "Untold story of child victims of crime" - September 2013 - blog