IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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The role of schools in supporting families affected by imprisonment

It has long been the case that voluntary and non-governmental organisations are primarily responsible for the support of families affected by imprisonment.

In April 2012 Sarah Roberts, a former secondary school teacher, conducted research in the United States and Australia examining the role which schools may play to aid those organisations in their work.She discovered that although in general teachers she spoke to would be more than happy help, examples of such work in action was rare.

Ultimately she concluded that schools and teachers could greatly aid in the support of these families, who are in most cases extremely vulnerable. Not only will this be of benefit to the families themselves, but it can also contribute to the rehabilitation of the parents imprisoned.

Some of her key recommendations include:

All school staff should be aware of those children who are affected by imprisonment and they should be trained to deal with the issues surrounding this. Often these children are vulnerable, with a sense of shame at their parent’s imprisonment, and thus are in need of particular support.

Counselling, group work and mentoring can help children to cope and thus make them more successful and productive in school.

It is important to aid the child in maintaining a relationship with an imprisoned parent. Not only is this often in the interests of the child, but it has been proven that prisoners who maintain meaningful contact with family members while incarcerated are less likely to reoffend. A parent in prison can be kept involved and informed on their child’s progress in school.

A brief summary of the report may be read here.