Independent Appeal: It's not just dad who gets a sentence

The children of prisoners also suffer and can need help coping with an absent parent

Louise was a model child, polite, diligent, well-behaved – she even kept her bedroom tidy. But all that changed, when, aged 11, her father was sentenced to four years in prison for drug dealing.

"She went from being a little angel to being totally over the top," her mother, Angela, recalls. "She'd have temper tantrums and break things. She started smoking, swearing and truanting from school. She was so stressed and anxious and obsessive in her behaviour. If I went out to do some shopping or to see a friend, she'd phone me non-stop, asking who I was with and when I'd be back."

Relationships within the family deteriorated, with Louise taking out her distress on her mother and her older sister and brother, Rebecca and Tim. At the end of her tether, Angela turned to Parenting Matters in Neath, run by Barnardo's – one of the three charities being supported by this year's Independent Christmas Appeal – where she attended a course on handling teenage behaviour.

"I used to get angry and frustrated with her and shout a lot, but the course made me realise that her behaviour was normal – bearing in mind what she was going through with her father, Derek, in prison, and the stress of the visits there, with the nightmare journeys, the intimidating atmosphere in the prison, and the searches and sniffer dogs.

"I used to parent in the way that my own mother did, by shouting and getting angry, but the course taught me that there's another way. That if you want respect yourself, you need to treat your kids with respect first. We started sitting down and discussing things as a family, and working things through together. As a result, the four of us became very close."

As the end of Derek's sentence drew closer, the children wrote to him saying that they wanted him to come home, stipulating clearly, however, that his place within the family was dependent on his steering clear of drugs.

Angela believes that this plea from the children was a turning point in his life, prompting him to stay clean on his release, and eight years down the line, remaining drug-free and in employment.

However, returning to family life after a period in prison is by no means straightforward, as Rob Couchman, a project worker with Barnardo's Neath-Port Talbot project, points out: "A parent's re-entry into the family after a period in prison can be hugely problematic. During the parent's absence, the family dynamics will have changed, and, depending on the length of sentence, the children could be significantly older, so things will have moved on. The returning parent will often struggle to find a role in a family that has learnt to cope without him, and friction is inevitable."

In Angela's case, Derek's return turned everything upside down. "He just gave in to the kids on everything because he was trying to make things up to them. But it doesn't work like that," she said. "They then started playing us off against each other, which resulted in arguments."

Angela adds: "Fortunately, because he was trying so hard to make everything work, he agreed to do a parenting course with Barnardo's which really helped him see that what I was saying made sense."

By this stage, keen to help others going through traumatic periods in their lives, Angela had become a volunteer for Barnardo's. One of her key roles was to speak to men at Swansea and Parc prisons, who were on the cusp of release. She began the first session by reading the letter her children had written, describing, in devastating detail, the impact having a dad in prison had had on their lives. "I'll never forget their reaction," recalls Angela. "I had 12 macho blokes sitting with me, and they all had tears in their eyes, they melted, and the room was totally silent.

"My husband told me that you dare not think about the outside world while you are serving your sentence, or you'd never get through it. That's why it's really easy for the blokes to think everything's OK for the wife and kids, because they have their freedom.

"It was important for these guys to know how much we all struggled. Rebecca, the eldest, who was 15 at the time, had to become an adult overnight, and took on far too much responsibility for her age. For me, everything was an effort – keeping a roof over our heads, putting food on the table, staying strong for the kids."

Angela, who won the Marsh Trust volunteer of the year award in 2007, is now hoping that parenting skills for offenders will be high on the Government's agenda, and that finance will be found for more parenting programmes at prisons.

"Creating a stable family life really reduces the chance of that person re-offending," she asserts. "We would not have coped without Barnardo's help, and everyone deserves a chance to make things work out, as they have for us."

Some names have been changed

The charities in this year's Independent Christmas Appeal

Children around the world cope daily with problems that are difficult for most of us to comprehend. For our Christmas Appeal this year we have chosen three charities which support vulnerable children everywhere.

* Children on the Edge was founded by Anita Roddick 20 years ago to help children institutionalised in Romanian orphanages. It specialises in traumatised children. It still works in eastern Europe, supporting children with disabilities and girls at risk of sex trafficking. But it now works with children in extreme situations in a dozen countries – children orphaned by AIDS in South Africa, post-tsunami trauma in Indonesia, long-term post-conflict disturbance in East Timor, and with Burmese refugee children in Bangladesh and Thailand.

* ChildHope works to bring hope and justice, colour and fun into the lives of extremely vulnerable children experiencing different forms of violence in 11 countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

* Barnardo's works with more than 100,000 of the most disadvantaged children in 415 specialised projects in communities across the UK. It works with children in poverty, homeless runaways, children caring for an ill parent, pupils at risk of being excluded from school, children with disabilities, teenagers leaving care, children who have been sexually abused and those with inappropriate sexual behaviour. It runs parenting programmes.


Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing