In partnership with the Hull Together Women Project, Re-Unite has helped Sarah* turn her family’s life around
Sarah’s children were aged three years and eight months respectively when she was given a six-year prison sentence for drug offences in 2009.
Not only were the children separated from their mother, but also from each other. The eldest went to live with her father in their home town near Hull, while the youngest was cared for by an aunt hundreds of miles away in the south of England.
According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, some 17,000 children were placed in care last year because of sentences handed down to women. Like Sarah’s children, many are looked after by “kinship carers”, who are either friends or members of the extended family. Many others, of course, enter local authority care.
When Sarah was released from prison after serving three years, her number one priority was to reunite her family, to start the difficult process of undoing the emotional damage caused by the separation of a family at such a critical stage of their lives together.
Without the intervention of Re-Unite in Hull, Sarah would have encountered the same problem faced by countless other mothers who have been sent to prison. For a host of reasons, many lose their homes. On being released from prison, these mothers are told they cannot secure custody of their children because they don’t have a suitable family home. But because they do not have custody of their children, the current rules of the housing benefit and housing allocation systems mean they’re not entitled to housing suitable for a family.
Before leaving prison, Sarah was referred to one of the UK’s seven Re-Unite projects, which provide stable housing and tailored support to help mothers be reunited with their children upon leaving prison.
Re-Unite was set up by Commonweal Housing to test the benefits of such interventions by partnering with locally-based delivery partners, such as the Hull Together Women Project, which worked with Sarah.
Initially, Sarah stayed with a friend but the Re-Unite project spoke to a local private landlord and he agreed to accept Sarah as a tenant in a family-sized house. Re-Unite was able to reassure the landlord that they would be supporting her closely to ensure she had the money to stagger payments for a bond on the property.
Following a parenting assessment by social services, Sarah regained custody of her children. It was not all plain sailing at the start, with the youngest child, who by now was almost four years old, finding it particularly difficult to re-establish close bonds.
But Sarah managed to secure places for both children in local schools and has herself got a place at university. She is convinced that without her children around her, she would have lacked confidence and could have ended up back in the drug community.
* Name has been changed