The aim of the project is to reduce the number of children being taken into care when a mother goes to prison
An evaluation of having a social worker based in two women’s prisons to support mothers in (i) HMP Eastwood Park and (ii) HMP Send. The project aims to support mothers’ involvement with their children, retain their foothold in decision making, support children visiting and plan for release.
Activities and Methods
We will be interviewing- social workers, mothers in prison, mothers released, carers and children. We will be surveying practitioners in the community and mothers accessing the service. We will also be collecting demographic data about mothers accessing the service. The evaluation runs until 2023. In year 2 we will be interviewing prison governors to see how well embedded the project is.
Findings from interim evaluation of Together a Chance – May 2023
In year two we have interviewed prison staff to see how well-embedded the project is.
- The Social Workers have reported working with 35 women, 19 in HMP Eastwood Park, 16 in HMP Send.
- The Social Workers are acting as a conduit of information, facilitating contact between mothers and community practitioners, mothers and courts, and mothers and children.
- Relationships between local authority Social Workers and mothers are often antagonistic, fractured and sometimes non-existent.
- The Social Worker provides support to mothers in both attending meetings around their children and family court proceedings.
- The Social Worker can undertake parenting assessments and facilitate visitation, potentially reducing the workload of the community practitioner.
- The difference in online meeting platforms utilised by the prison service and local authority teams acts as a barrier to attendance at virtual meetings.
- Communication and negotiation with courts is difficult, often providing late notice of court dates which does not facilitate women’s involvement or attendance.
- The TaC Social Workers are building the trust of mothers by demonstrating respect and coming alongside; they are beginning to have an impact on how mothers engage with community Social Workers.
- The Social Workers are demonstrating that they can hold a ‘child-focused plus’ approach (Forrester et al. 2008) and are able to work for the benefit of the child and the mother, and the differing perspectives are not necessarily polarised.
- The Social Worker has been helping women to collate evidence of the extensive training and counselling they have received to demonstrate where significant change has been made, often over a long sentence.
- For those children where ongoing contact is not appropriate due to the nature of the mother’s offence, this early data suggests that skilled support in educating and being transparent with mothers is having a positive impact on wellbeing and contributing to the child’s identity through life story work.
- There are examples where the Social Worker role has been very beneficial for children. For some cases, the role of the Social Worker has changed the trajectory of the case.
- The Social Workers arrange final contact meetings between mothers and children prior to adoption.
- The Social Workers advise mothers how to better communicate with their children, for example by modelling topics to introduce at contact.
- Domestic abuse was a significant feature in the previous lives of mothers accessing the project.
- Where children are residing with fathers and there is a history of domestic abuse, there are ongoing issues around negotiating contact with children.
- A very high percentage of siblings are separated, and this then involves more than one children’s Social Worker, sometimes across different local authorities.
- This pilot scheme is beginning to demonstrate that mothers can, with the right support, continue to play a role in their children’s lives and be involved in decisions relating to their welfare, where it is in the best interests of the children.
Pact funded by the Sylvia Adams Foundation
|Rees, A., Staples, E. and Maxwell, N. 2017. Evaluation of Visiting Mum Scheme: Final Report June 2017. Project Report. [Online]. Cardiff: CASCADE. Available at: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/112243/
Rees, A.et al. 2020. Visiting mum: children’s perspectives on a supported scheme when visiting their mother in prison. Child Care in Practice (10.1080/13575279.2020.1769025)