The best solutions for children and young people whose parents are involved within the criminal justice system will frequently be the best solutions for the whole community. Children and young people with positive relationships with their parents and family are likely to have better health and wellbeing outcomes (Glasgow Centre for Population Health, 2013). This chimes with a broad population approach to tackling health inequalities, recognising both the importance of family and community networks, and the inevitability that poverty, poor housing and unemployment are the background to much criminal behaviour (Whitehead and Dahlgren, 2007). Phillips and Dettlaff (2009) note that parental substance abuse, domestic violence, and extreme poverty are more common in households where a parent has been arrested and or sentenced to probation and that unemployment was a significant factor among caregivers who have experienced imprisonment. The factors are considered to affect both the short-term and long-term wellbeing of children.
Those who come into contact with the criminal justice system in Scotland, particularly Scottish prisoners, mainly come from the most deprived areas in the country (Houchin, 2005), and most adult family members of prisoners are unemployed, receiving benefits, and live in rented accommodation with low weekly incomes (Dickie, 2013). Whilst limited research in the UK has explored the impact on children of parental involvement across the criminal justice process, research in Australia highlights unintended consequences as being ‘children witnessing traumatic arrest processes, experiencing sudden and unanticipated separation from their parent/s, being displaced from home and struggling to maintain contact with their imprisoned parent’ (Flynn et al, 2015:2). GIRFEC – Getting It Right For Every Child (Scottish Government, 2012), now enshrined in Scottish legislation through the Children & Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, is a sound building block for supporting children whose parents come into contact with the criminal justice system. Although more specific recognition of the needs of the estimated 27,000 children affected each year by parental incarceration in Scotland (Scottish Government Justice Analytic Services, 2012) is merited, this research also recognises that attention needs to be paid to the experiences of children who have parents involved across the justice system (Phillips and Dettlaff, 2009). These families are often among the most complex cases child protective service agencies encounter (Phillips and Erkanli, 2008).
This current project (a collaboration between the University of Salford, the University of Huddersfield and Families Outside (Scotland)) funded by NHS Glasgow, is based on participatory and child-centred approaches to explore the impact of parental involvement in the justice system on children and young people, aged 8-18 from Glasgow. The research is being conducted with the best interests of children and young people at the forefront, with their own accounts being valued as much as any others, working with them rather than conducting research on them, and striving to ensure that their voice is promoted at every stage. The research also draws on principles of action research, emphasising the participatory engagement of all stakeholders as partners in a process of collaborative and reflective sense-making. The study design is based on family cases, with the child or young person as the index with their parents or carers and the professionals involved with the family as part of their world. The research adopts a very positive view about children, children’s rights and childhood, and the capacity of children to influence public policy and to shape their own solutions to the challenges they face.
Prof. Tony Long – Professor of Child and Family Health
Dr Kelly Lockwood – Lecturer in Criminology