Written by Sara Birch, Caseworker

It is not always easy to decide whether or not to let a child know about the imprisonment of their parent, or another family member, such as a brother or sister. Some families prefer not to tell them, fearing that the news would be too upsetting. Other families believe that “honesty is the best policy” because children might blame themselves unless they are told the truth. Prisoners Abroad has a factsheet discussing this issue that can be requested by prisoners and their families and can also be directed to other resources which can help them decide on the best way in their individual case to deal with telling the children.

Being held overseas can be particularly difficult for those with children, who might find the separation very hard. Regular visits with children and other family or friends may not always be possible for a variety of reasons -  because of the costs involved, language barriers, prisoner regulations or a prisoner’s family’s work commitments for example. Prisoners Abroad, can and does, assist family members in planning visits with their children, and occasionally can assist with small grants from our Travel Fund.  However, regular contact by other means can help maintain a bond between parents and children who have been separated due to imprisonment.

Prisoners Abroad has produced a factsheet for prisoners which aims to provide those separated from their children with some ideas as to how their child can grow and develop safe the in knowledge that they are loved and cared for by them. The factsheet is aimed at people whose children are aware of their imprisonment and to people whose children would like to stay in touch. All prisoners supported by Prisoners Abroad are asked to complete an Assessment Form and are given an opportunity to request a fact sheet full of ideas to help them keep in contact with their children. A copy of this factsheet can be found on our website at https://www.prisonersabroad.org.uk/what-about-the-children

In addition to providing Services Users with a list of specialist publications that we can send, at their request, to those who need guidance in staying in touch with their children, our factsheet gives guidance in some of the following areas:

 

  • Writing to children: Service users can request as many “Freepost envelopes so that they can write to their children via our office as much as often as they like- there is no limit on the number of envelopes that we are prepared to send our Service users. Service users are encouraged to write to their children whatever their age as any pictures, cards, stories or short letters can be shown and read out to them by their caregiver at home and lessen any feelings of desertion or rejection that they may feel. Prisoners Abroad can print off cards onto paper and send them to Service users to send them to their children. We have a number of designs such as “Happy Birthday”, Thinking of You” or “Miss U like crazy” which service users can request.

 

One of Service users, held in the USA, wrote to say:

 

“It would be nice for them to get a card once in a while from us saying “Thinking of you’ – ‘I love you’ – ‘I miss you’ – I’m sure as you know kids love to get cards”.

 

  • Sending activities: Suggesting activities that their child can do is a great way for our Service users to stay in touch. Service users can request our list of “Child-Friendly Recipes”  which suggests Service users either copy them out or illustrate them to be used with the child’s caregiver. Following a set of instructions that we can send to them, Service users can make and send origami models to their children and/or tell them how to make the models themselves. Prisoners Abroad has sent origami instructions, or alternatively, if you have the correct sized paper, five sets of origami instructions which we can be sent to Service users which include instructions for making a Sailing Boat, a Cup, a Love Heart, a Star and a Van. Service users can also ask us to same them a variety of puzzles, crosswords and ideas for games for older and younger children that can be used in their communication with their child.

Service users can send their children instructions on how to make a ‘bagel snake’ or  ‘mice in jackets’  with their carer

  • Reading together: Prisoners Abroad can send Service users materials to help them engage with reading with their child – for example we are able to send out short stories for very young children such as ‘A Fishy Tale’ and ‘Round Bird’ and can send instructions for how Service users can create a book together with their child

  • Sending jokes: Prisoners Abroad has a list of jokes that can be included in your letters to your children

  • Praising children: Telling a child they have done something well helps them to achieve self-esteem and self-worth. Prisoners Abroad can help Service users find ways to praise their children by sending them certificates that they can send to them. Service users can ask us to print a message on a certificate and send it to them to send to their child – for example. “This certificate is from Joe Bloggs’ father because he has been helping Mum around the house”.

  • Providing guidance: In our factsheet, in addition to providing ideas for ways for parents separated from their children to keep in touch with them, we also suggest some ways in which Service users can provide guidance to their child. Prisoners Abroad has created a series of fun pictures which can be sent to a child to remind them of what is expected of them. Pictures that we have include the following – a picture of a Boy in bed with a clock behind him at 8 pm with an example of what could be written such as “Dear David, I love you very much – Remember to get to bed at 8pm – love Dad” and a picture reminding a child to brush their teeth every day/eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Service users can ask Prisoners Abroad to customise these pictures.

Over the years that I have worked at Prisoners Abroad and have forwarded many letters from parents to their children, I have seen some amazing artwork (one father created a hand-drawn comic on paper that we sent him for this young child!).  

Our fact sheet Keeping in Touch with the Children offers advice and ideas to a parent who is in prison and separated from their children.  Please let us know if you would like us to send this to your relative in prison.