We need impact assessments to stop children from falling between the cracks
On Tuesday an amendment to the Criminal justice (Scotland) bill proposed by Mary Fee MSP was accepted by the Justice Committee which would introduce Child and Family Impact Assessments for children and young people who have a parent or carer sent to custody. This issue also featured heavily in First Ministers Question on Thursday.
The cross-party support on the Justice Committee for this proposal is a hugely welcome step forward for a group of children whose needs often go unrecognised. It has been estimated that there are over 27,000 children in Scotland affected by the imprisonment of a parent but an estimate is the best we can do because there is no robust form of identification or assessment for this group of children.
Our staff working with these children report they often face issues such as confusion, isolation, stigma, secrecy, social exclusion, poverty, loss, bereavement and trauma. One of the issues faced by agencies and organisations in Scotland working with children and families is that these children are more often than not a hidden population. All too often they fall between the cracks of education, social work, justice, health or aren’t noticed at all.
The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up; this can be seen through investment in the early years, GIRFEC, the whole systems approach and the prevention agenda. But to date there is still a lack of joined up thinking when it comes to children with a parent in prison.
Child and Family Impact Assessments will ensure that the rights of the child are acknowledged and appropriate supports are put in place to address their particular needs. These assessments should be focused on children’s individual wellbeing needs. It is equally important that the parent left behind is also supported, and if necessary signposted to appropriate adult services.
Statistics released last May by the Scottish Government showed that the number of Criminal Justice Social Work Reports (CJSWR) being requested, and the number of reports being submitted, is continuing to fall. Even when conducted, the intention of the CJSWR is to establish what the family can do for the offender, not what statutory services can do for the family.
We believe all children should have a separate assessment of their wellbeing carried out if their parent or carer is sent to custody in order to prevent the longer term adverse effects on their physical, social and emotional development.
Martin Crewe is director of Barnardo’s Scotland