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26 February 2015, 07:13
Two of Scotland's children's charities have called for a renewed focus on the "low visibility" of infants and children affected by parental imprisonment, ahead of a member's debate in Scottish Parliament today.
The "low visibility" of this group was highlighted in the joint report by Barnardos and NSPCC, 'An Unfair Sentence - All Babies Count: Spotlight on the criminal justice system' which was launched in London earlier this month.
The report puts a spotlight on the number of babies in Scotland each year who are affected by parental imprisonment, estimated to be between 3,400 and 4,600. Due to the lack of data collection, this vulnerable group of children are all too often missing out on the vital care which is crucial to their healthy development.
The charities are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure babies and infants with a parent in prison are identified as a specific vulnerable group and for the introduction of Child Impact Assessments when a parent is given a custodial sentence.
Matt Forde, National Head of Service for NSPCC Scotland, said: "Formally identifying these babies as a specific vulnerable group will help focus attention on their needs, and deliver the closer working between infant and maternal health, children's services and criminal justice agencies required to provide them and their carers with the best possible support.
"We know what is needed for a baby to have a healthy start in life: good maternal physical and mental health during pregnancy; sensitive, consistent and responsive care from care givers; care and support for parents, and a safe and stimulating environment. All of these can be affected in different ways when a parent is in the criminal justice system. This report looks at some of the practical steps services can take to help."
Leonee Moorhead, Children's Services Manager, Young Family Support for Barnardos Scotland, said: "The report highlights the lack of official data on the number of infants affected by the criminal justice system and how little UK research there has been into the impact of the system on infant care arrangements, parent-infant relationships, and perinatal healthcare for pregnant women as well as new mothers and fathers in prison.
"Due to our established youth work and family support services within the prison estate we have a positive working relationship with the Scottish Prison Service, who are committed to working with partners to improve the experience for families with children visiting prisons and minimising the negative impact of imprisonment where possible; particularly through service provision aimed at maintaining and building family relationships."
Current Scottish Government initiatives including the redesign of community justice; reform of services for women prisoners; the new round of children's service planning and the guidance for the Children & Young People's Act, provide a great opportunity to get things right, not just for this group of infants, but for all children of prisoners.