Children with a parent in prison are twice as likely to be disruptive in school and face mental health problems later in life, says a report to be published later today.
The report, from the children’s charity Barnardo’s, urges every school to appoint a designated teacher to look after the needs of the estimated 200,000 children a year who find themselves in this position.
“The children of prisoners are a group hidden from view,” said Alison Worsley, the deputy director of strategy at Barnardo’s. “All the evidence suggests they are highly vulnerable and often face extensive challenges to their education and wellbeing.”
The report says – as there are around 36,000 schools in England and Wales – there is a strong possibility that the vast majority of schools have at least one pupil with a parent in prison. One Oxfordshire headteacher estimated that at least two children in every class at her school was in that position.
“Parental imprisonment has a direct impact on children’s academic attainment, socio-emotional development and behaviour, often escalating to school exclusion or truancy,” the report adds.
“Yes, I’m naughtier at school,” one 13-year-old whose stepfather is in prison told researchers. “I’m getting removed from lessons for being naughty and joking around. Sometimes I just get angry.”
A mother whose partner was in prison said of her daughter: “Her school work is terrible. Everything in her report was about the past few months. It’s quite obvious what’s affecting it.”
The Barnardo’s research also shows that at least 25 per cent of children over the age of 11 with jailed parents are at high risk of mental health problems.
The majority of imprisoned parents are fathers, but up to 18,000 pupils a year are separated from jailed mothers.
The report, in the form of a handbook for schools, also warns pupils face the stigma of other parents not wanting their children to mix with a child who has an imprisoned family member. “It is important children of prisoners are not punished for their parent’s actions and receive the support they need,” said Ms Worsley. “Failure to address their needs will rebound on the children and society as a whole.”
However, the report points out that the lives of some children may improve as a result of a family member going to prison. The mother of a five and seven-year-old said: “I’m less stressed. Everything with the children is easier. Financially we’re better off. Everything is easier.”