Children on the Edge, the evolution of the Re-Unite project

2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Corston Report, the seminal review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system that followed the tragic death of six women at Styal Prison. Baroness Corston’s review, outlining the need for a distinct, radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach was published in March 2007.

The report made 43 recommendations for improving the approaches, services and interventions for women in the criminal justice system and women at risk of offending. One of the recommendations was the plight of maternal separation in the criminal justice system and particular issues around reunification of families on release. Building on this evidence base, Commonweal founded the Re-Unite Project partnering with Housing for Women to deliver housing for women leaving prison in order for them to resume a stable family life with their children.

The project was initially piloted in South London but has been replicated across the country, with Commonweal passing co-ordination of the network replication partners over to Anawim and Women’s Breakout in 2014. Re-Unite has been a successful project with projected and has helped to embed amongst practitioners the centrality of housing to family re-unification after maternal imprisonment.

2017 will also mark the completion of the handback process of housing from Housing for Women to Commonweal, this process, as per our project agreement will mark the start of a new era for the project, with the emphasis shifting to implementing some of the important policy lessons that have been learnt during the project.

It’s clear that while the numbers of women in prison is decreasing gradually this remains a real problem and one that should trouble society. More than double the number of children are affected by parental imprisonment than divorce in the family. Approximately 200,000 children in England and Wales had a parent in prison at some point in 2009.

One of the areas the partners and Commonweal wish to see more research into is the impact of maternal imprisonment on the child. As part of this work Women’s Breakout and Anawim conducted some preliminary research into this area in 2016, funded by Commonweal.

As part of the shifting focus of the project from practice to policy, Commonweal funded a piece of research by women’s breakout into the impact of maternal imprisonment on children. Last week the report was published, under the title; Children on the Edge. You can read the report here:

taining the outcomes for children when their mother goes to prison. The report finds parental imprisonment can cause strong reactions in children that can develop into unhappiness, annoyance, anxiety, loss, an increase of risks to development, and disruption in the mother child relationship, and other family relationships. Many children suffer from instability and insecurity, self-blame, rejection, guilt and feelings of deception.

Children frequently feel loss and uncertainty stemming from the emotional and economic change. Where there is no one to take care of a child after the arrest of a parent, the child’s world often changes beyond comprehension – they may need to stay with relatives for a considerable time, or be taken into care by social services; their social networks are affected; their school life may change. In extreme circumstances, children maybe left completely on their own for a time and uncertain what is going to happen to them.

Commonweal will be reviewing the findings and the recommendations of the report over the coming months and will return to the subject in the New Year.

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