Does embedding a social worker in prison to support mothers make a difference?


This research project evaluated ‘Together a Chance’, a three-year pilot scheme placing a Social Worker in two women’s prisons, one in HMP Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire and one in HMP Send, Surrey. The scheme is intended to support and advocate for women whose children are involved with children’s social care in the originating local authority.  Our evaluation ran from April 2021 to December 2023.

Our research questions were as follows:

  • Who are the mothers accessing support from the prison-based social workers and how does the scheme operate within the prison?
  • What is the experience of ‘Together a Chance’ for mothers, children, and their carers?
  • To what extent do mothers remain involved in decision-making for their children?
  • How are mothers represented and empowered to actively participate in planning for their family’s future?
  • Does the scheme lead to improved relationships with family and professionals?
  • Are community practitioners more aware of a family’s needs when a mother goes to prison?
  • How has the scheme been perceived by policy makers and strategic actors? 
  • What are the barriers to effective working? How might the scheme be improved?

Activities and Methods

We ‘tracked’ the 94 mothers who accessed the scheme using a 6-monthly questionnaire completed by the prison-based social workers. We visited both prisons and interviewed prison staff. We interviewed mothers, family members, social workers and other community practitioners, and policy makers. We conducted surveys with mothers, prison staff and community practitioners involved with the scheme.  We analysed activity diaries and case study documents provided by the prison-based social workers.


The project is now complete and has provided clear and incontrovertible evidence of the need for a qualified, prison-based social worker. The social workers employed by Pact to support mothers in prison are demonstrating that they can work for the benefit of the child and the mother, and that the differing perspectives are not necessarily polarised. 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. For those children where ongoing contact is not appropriate due to the nature of the mother’s offence, our findings suggest 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.

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorProfessor Alyson Rees

Academic Staff

Academic StaffCharlotte Waits
Academic StaffZoe Bezeczky
FundersThe evaluation was commissioned by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact), with funding from the Sylvia Adams Trust
Related documentsTaC evaluation – 2nd interim report – May 2023
TaC evaluation – 1st interim report – June 2022
Related linksFilm from a previously linked evaluation of the Visiting Mum project in women’s prison HMP Eastwood Park
Related publications Rees, A., Staples, E. and Maxwell, N. 2017. Evaluation of Visiting Mum Scheme: Final Report June 2017. Project Report. [Online]. Cardiff: CASCADE. Available at:

Rees, 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)