Children Heard and Seen

“What upsets me is that I can’t be Grandma”: The Experiences of Grandparent Carers of Children with a Parent in Prison

In the UK, whilst much academic attention has been paid to the impact of imprisonment on children and romantic partners of prisoners, very few studies have focused specifically on the experiences of grandparents who find themselves in the role of primary caregiver to a child whose parent is imprisoned.

The aim of this research is to develop a nuanced and dedicated understanding of the experiences of grandparents who are thrust into the role of primary caregiver to their grandchildren in the aftermath of parental imprisonment.

 “They were brought to us by social services when their mother turned up drunk at school to pick them up. Initially we thought it was going to be for a couple of days, but social services made it clear it was either us or care. So, we said well okay, it’s us.” – Grandfather H
In this paper, there are interviews with 19 grandparents from 22 families caring for children with a parent in prison. We hope this publication has given them a voice.
The key findings of the report are:
  • Given the extensive impact that parental imprisonment has on children, grandparents who take on caring for them occupy multiple roles. Not only do they assume care for their grandchildren, but they must also support them through the trauma of separation from their parent, the anxiety which they are likely to have about them being in prison, and any resulting challenging behaviour.
  • The lives of the grandparent caregivers had changed because of the loss of their independence.  In very tangible ways their world had ‘shrunk.’ Because of the long-term care the children needed, the grandparents’ future plans, hopes, and wishes for their later lives had diminished or disappeared.
  • It is vital for children and families affected by parental imprisonment to have access to practical, financial, and emotional support; without this, families remain at risk of family breakdown, social disadvantage, and intergenerational criminality.

The content of this report was initially written as part of a fellowship with the Griffin Society, awarded in 2016. I would like to thank the grandparents who participated in the research upon which this article is based, and all those who supported the development of this work. I would also like to thank the Griffin Society, and in particular my supervisor Professor Rachel Condry, for her continued support, encouragement and enormous expertise throughout this research.