19th April 2024 All Posts

What Has Prison Got to do with the Early Years?

Guest blog by June O’Sullivan – CEO of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF).

I became aware of the impact of prisons on small children through a chance conversation with one of my managers. She noticed the grandparent was bringing the child to nursery much more often and they were no longer seeing Mum. Nobody said anything until the manager gently broached the Mum’s absence with the grandparent.  It turned out that Mum was in prison and the grandparent was very embarrassed and ashamed of the situation but really struggling emotionally and financially.  The manager was highly sensitive to the grandparent’s position and her team figured out ways to support the grandmother without her feeling judged. Like it or not, we live in very judgy times, not helped by social media and reality TV.  These days we lack compassion!

The conversation got me thinking hard about this and I did some research into the prison statistics, and they are pretty scary. There are 86,000 people in prison. 81,000 of them are men. 310,000 children have a parent in prison and one of them could be a child from your setting. The most disturbing statistic for me was hearing that 6 out of 10 boys are more likely to follow their fathers into prison than go to university. It put me in mind of a story from one of the nurseries where they heard one of the children tell a staff member that her Dad was in prison and she was going to go there too because she was very good at creeping about. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to dump Burglar Bill or get copies for everyone. 

As part of preparation to write the pack, I spent a day at a prison, organised by PACT – a charity which works with families and children of prisoners.  I was joined by colleagues from LEYF and we went through the entire visiting process which can be quite daunting the first time round.

Yet, 10,000 children visit a prison every week. This includes spending a long time in a queue, hearing shouting, the reverberating slam of iron doors and then being searched and sniffed by a dog.  Sadly, partners and friends of prisoners often try and smuggle drugs into prison using a baby as a foil. Given the drug issue in prison, wardens take no chances! Innocent children caught up in the war on drugs. 

I invited colleagues across LEYF to help create this pack. I was amazed at the number of people whose lives have been touched by imprisonment and, for many, it has left a deep scar.  It is often by chance, gossip, social media or the local paper that you hear about someone being in prison. As a sector alert to trauma-informed practice, helping children with a parent or family member in prison is not an alien concept. We therefore approached writing the pack as a form of action research.  It’s my favourite learning loop. It begins by identifying a problem, investigating it through observation and interviews, agreeing on actions and then testing them. 

The outcome of our action research was that we needed a pack that would be practical and easy to access and would focus on three perspectives: The child, The staff member and The family. Never assume you know people’s real backstories. 

So come on – dial up your compassion, download the pack from our website and do your bit. 

Furthermore, please share it on social media and get it widely distributed to help staff address what is often a very hidden issue and where children are the innocent victims.

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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare