Re-Unite was founded by Commonweal Housing, Women in Prison and Housing for Women in response to the problems faced by women trying to rebuild a stable family life when released from prison. Women exiting prison can’t get custody of their children because they don’t have a family house, and are unable to access family housing because they don’t have custody of their children. Not only does this mean that ex-offenders are placed at increased risk of homelessness and re-offending, but it also keeps mothers away from their children and prevents them from reuniting as a family.
The Housing Solution
Re-Unite provided in-prison support to identify potential women at an early stage, and provide advice and support on the nature and requirements of finding housing and the reunification process.
Two services were offered:
- The Mothers’ Programme that provided small flats or studios and support for women leaving prison with more challenging problems, to allow them to become eligible for the return of their children to their care.
- The Mothers’ and Children’s Programme, which provided family housing on the point of release for women leaving prison to reunite them immediately with their children. Family support was provided to enable the successful reunion of the mother and children and development of the family. The families were also helped to access specialist support, such as counselling, mentoring, substance misuse and mental health services.
Following work done by our partners in the Re-Unite Network, the scope of the Re-Unite project was subsequently expanded to include a renewed focus on the impacts of maternal imprisonment on children.
Sarah* had never been in trouble with the police before the incident that led to her prison sentence. Her younger sister had an altercation with several friends. Pushing and shoving occurred and Sarah got involved. The main victim received injuries to the face from a broken bottle held by Sarah.
Although Sarah acknowledges that she was the perpetrator of the injuries, it was not her intention to injure the victim, and she was trying to protect her younger sister. Sarah was sentenced to 20 months for GBH, and spent 10 months in Holloway prison. Her daughter, Catherine, was just over three years old when her mother went to prison, and lived with her dad. Sarah and Catherine’s father separated whilst Sarah served her sentence.
When Sarah was due to be released she faced homelessness, and with minimal employment experience and no qualifications she had very few options to improve her situation. Sarah was referred to the Re-Unite program by Holloway Prison, and following an interview to assess her, she was accepted. This meant that upon coming out of prison there was a home for her and her daughter to move into, and support services for her rehabilitation.
It was a huge step for her to leave her support network in North London, but Re-Unite helped to find Catherine a new school and move them in. The broader support services that Re-Unite provide proved invaluable for Sarah to help her to establish routines and reduce anxiety about separation from her daughter while she was at school. The hours that the support worker put in were clearly beneficial.
Sarah is now in education, training as an accountant. She is ready to move on from the Re-Unite scheme when a property becomes available, and she is excited by this. She has engaged well with the Re-Unite program and benefited not just from being provided with a home, but from the dedicated support that allowed her to uncover some broader challenges related to her rehabilitation.
*Names have been changed
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