The Re-Unite project works to prevent homelessness amongst mothers on their release from prison so they can regain custody of their children and be re-united as a family.
This innovative initiative fills a gap long since identified by prison and probation managers, third sector providers, offenders and ex-offenders themselves. The project originally stemmed from a partnership between Commonweal Housing, Housing for Women and Women in Prison.
Re-Unite provides a range of services to help both the mother and her children re-establish themselves as a self-sufficient, harmonious family unit. It is aimed to achieve this within a period of two years before the families move on. Commonweal originally invested over £2m in this project.
In October 2014 Commonweal handed over the day to day coordination and future development of Re-Unite to a partnership between Anawim and Women’s Breakout. This experienced Midland’s based partnership brings many years experience of supporting women in the criminal justice system, has an effective network and proven expertise in delivering both strategic and local excellence.
In October 2016 Commonweal provided a further one-off grant to Women’s Breakout to ensure the immediate legacy of the Re-Unite programme and to provide Women’s Breakout with the capacity to ensure that details and ethos of the Re-Unite model are embedded within the emerging holistic gender focussed Social Impact Bond approach being developed by Women’s Breakout. In addition Women’s Breakout will continue to work its wider membership on the Re-Unite model and the needs of homeless mothers exiting prison and options for assisting them be reunited with their children.
Commonweal are also focussing going forward on injustice meted out to the children affected by parental but in particular maternal imprisonment. Building upon an internal report produced by the Re-Unite Network Coordination partners, we are seeking ways to best bring this injustice to the fore and how we can support other organisations best able to campaign or promote appropriate solutions.
Following a history of re-offending Paula* was last sentenced to prison in 2009, for using crack, petty theft and shoplifting, Her son was born after her release and he stayed in foster care until Paula was referred to residential rehabilitation. She was subject to an interim care order with Social Services with the view to her entering Re-Unite’s Mother and Children’s Programme after rehabilitation with her 13-month-old son. The independent social worker expressed concerns that there was a risk that Paula’s son could be removed permanently.
The Re-Unite Support Worker attended court with Paula and explained the project and what support would be offered. After lengthy consideration of the care package, both Social Services and the legal team decided to “give Paula a chance”.
Strict conditions were imposed including Paula’s commitment to a multi-agency care plan and a drug intervention programme, and Paula was allowed to move to the project.
Six weeks into the programme, both Paula and her son were doing extremely well. This has been a great credit to the hard work that Paula and her Support Worker have put into the support sessions and through this Paula has built up a good support network.
The final court hearing was brought forward as a direct result of Paula’s positive progress.
* names have been changed
The findings of this report support the principle underpinning the concept of Re-Unite and, based on evidence of demand also, we unequivocally recommend continuation of the project.
Evaluation of the pilot project was provided by the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. A summary of the evaluation report is available to read, Re-Unite South London – the way ahead evaluation, and the full evaluation report can be found here.
As the time approaches for the Re-Unite project housing stock to be handed back to Commonweal, the project will shortly be entering a new phase which will see a greater focus on policy implications from the learning over the last ten years. 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 Womens Breakout and Anawim conducted some preliminary research into this area in 2016, funded by Commonweal. The report is available to view Children on the edge