Young people from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear with a parent in prison are being offered a new specialist support service from July 2020 thanks to north east charity, Nepacs.

The Nepacs’ youth project is launching the service thanks to a £15,000 grant awarded via the ‘Supporting victims fund’, funding provided by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Kim McGuinness.

The service will provide unique support for young people aged 8 to 17 years across both Tyne and Wear and Northumberland who are experiencing feelings of isolation, trauma and distress as a result their parent being incarcerated in prison. Having a parent in prison can negatively affect children’s mental wellbeing, relationships with their peers, educational attainment, behaviour, financial stability and increase the likelihood of misusing substances.

The young people will be offered one to one support in schools and through virtual engagement online, where they will be given the chance to speak openly about their thoughts, feelings and concerns for the future with the guided support of a trained Nepacs youth worker. The one to one service will offer a minimum of three, 1-hour sessions for a young person, providing a safe space to ask questions relating to imprisonment alongside exploring longer-term peer support activities available through the Nepacs’ youth project.

Aelred Robinson, Nepacs’ youth project coordinator, said: “When a child experiences the imprisonment of a parent or close family member, they become subject to their own ‘hidden sentence’ which brings feelings of isolation, shame, confusion and abandonment without someone who can readily provide answers or a listening ear. This experience can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing and behaviour and, increasingly, young people are vulnerable to bullying and victimisation if other children find out details of their family member being in prison through social media.

“Because there is no current statutory guidance to inform schools when a parent of a child is sent to prison, the traumatising event of imprisonment can often go unnoticed. The outreach work we hope to provide through 1:1 support can also help to raise further awareness, reducing the stigma attached to imprisonment and encouraging more young people, their families and schools to work with Nepacs to receive individual support and guidance.”

Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs added: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, affecting the lives of every child and young person in the country. Due to COVID-19 and suspension of prison visits, children have not been able to see their parent in prison for at least 3 months, and that the associated anxieties are likely to compound an already difficult situation for them.

“This generation of children face unprecedented threats to their childhoods and life chances. Nepacs has joined with 151 other charities to call on the Government to embrace a new vision of childhood to support children, young people and their families to recover from the impact of COVID-19. The voices of children, young people and families must be at the heart of the recovery and rebuild process, and there must be renewed investment in the services and workforce that they rely on.

“We are delighted to have received this funding from Northumbria PCC as it recognises that children with a parent in prison are adversely affected, are in need of tailored support and will give these young people a voice.  We hope that the support we can offer will lead to increased resilience and a confidence to access appropriate support for the young people and in the longer these young people will experience better mental health, a reduced likelihood of getting involved in substance misuse / anti-social behaviour, better attendance and engagement at school and a reduced likelihood of them going on to offend themselves in the future.”

On awarding the funding, Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner said: “This project is going to have a profound positive impact on the young people engaged, and make a real difference to their lives. We know how important family is in a child’s upbringing, so I am delighted to be able to support this work which will be incredibly welcome during those challenging times of not having a parent or relative around.”

“No child should have to suffer the trauma these situations can bring, so by providing this individual support network we are much more likely to intervene at the key point and prevent these young people from suffering further, and ultimately becoming a vulnerable young person.”

More information on the call for the government to put children at the heart of recovery and on the Nepacs’ youth project can be found on the Nepacs website: www.nepacs.co.uk or email youth@nepacs.co.uk to access support.