As with many charities and organisations we have been faced with huge challenges by Covid-19, mainly how we can continue to support our vulnerable and already isolated families whilst maintaining social distancing. On 24th March 2020 prison visits in the UK were suspended, meaning that many of the children we support were unable to have contact with their parent in prison, raising significant anxiety and upset.
At the start of the lockdown we decided to take our services online, offering support groups for parents worried about their children’s parent in prison and weekly activity groups for children to keep them occupied and engaged with our support. We adapted our 1:1 support for children who were worried about their parent in prison so these sessions could be held online. We also decided to widen our support to families across the UK, as many of the other support services had not remained open. The first week of lock down we had 13 parents attend our online groups which is the average number we would get at one of our regular face to face support meetings.
We quickly realised that many of our families did not have a way to access our online groups, so we set up an appeal for second-hand laptops which we have been data wiping and delivering to families. So far, we have been donated over 80 laptops from members of the public and have delivered 27 laptops to families across Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Kent, Essex and Avon. We also set up a Virgin Giving appeal to help us to send our art and craft materials, cooking ingredients and to pay for data for families to access the groups. This has resulted in a significant increase in attendance, and since the lockdown we have had 893 attendees at our online groups (as of 7th June 2020): 579 children and 314 parents.
Our online groups have been a huge success and each day more and more families are accessing online support. We are now running at least 16 groups a week including storytelling with author Danny Lee reading his book ‘Finding Dad‘, a family fitness group, arts and crafts, cooking, up-cycling group for parents, young people’s panel, group for parents worried about their child’s parent in prison, weekly drop in groups and a coffee morning. We are taking more referrals and extending our support across the UK. We have now set up and are running groups for children in Bristol, Sussex and Berkshire as well as our existing groups in Oxford, Milton Keyes and Birmingham. We were the first organisation in the UK to set up and run online support groups for children and families impacted by parental imprisonment, and have been approached by other organisations such as MyTime Project, Sussex Prisoners Families and Out There on how to set up and run online groups for their families. We have developed a workbook specifically designed to support children impacted by parental imprisonment and are currently running a pilot project where we have sent a copy to each child we support through this project to complete with a trained practitioner via video calls. The sessions will address the children’s feelings related to having a parent in prison, explore the impact of their parent’s offending, increase their self-esteem and raise their aspirations. It will also give children an opportunity to talk about their fears relating to having a parent in prison during the current pandemic and will reduce their anxiety around this.
“Cannot thank you all enough for all the love and support you have shown us since we have been a part of CHAS. We received our laptop this morning and A is so so chuffed. You are all amazing people and I thank you all for helping us through this difficult time. Hope your all safe and well.” Hannah, Mum of two children
“Even in a pandemic you still make sure all children are thought of” Hayley, Mum of two children
“Today L and his mentor did baking via zoom! Hot cross buns! Yummy” Kirsty, Mum of four children
Charities such as Children Heard And Seen…are doing remarkable work. In this pandemic, good things are happening in the community and the justice system should be no exception. Bishop of Gloucester, Covid-19: Prisons and offending rehabilitation debate, House of Lords.
How to support us:
If you have an old laptop that has a webcam and is no longer in use please consider donating it to us to pass on to a family so they can attend our online groups. We have an IT volunteer who wipes all the data from the laptop before passing it on to a new family. Please email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
We receive very little funding for our online groups, so if you are able to donate any money it will make a huge difference. All money is spent on paying for activity kits which are then posted to families so that they can take part I our group art projects. If you are able to donate please follow this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/virtualsupport