Children Heard and Seen

A Parent’s Story 18: Sarah

Below is the eighteenth in a series of blog posts created by those caring for children with a parent in prison. The series aims to shine a light on the harms experienced by children and families when a parent goes to prison, and highlight the benefits that providing good support can bring.

We adopted our children 10 years ago, they were two and four then. My eldest had some problems from the beginning and so she was especially vulnerable as a child. That made it even worse that my husband abused her. He sexually abused her three times over a six-month period we think. Her behaviour became worse at that time and we really didn’t know why. We just thought she was a teenager being moody.

A year later, she finally said something to someone in school. The person she told called the police and my husband was arrested that night.

I feel really guilty about it. My husband denied the allegations and I didn’t believe my daughter at first because she had a history of lying. My youngest was really upset and my husband had to go away from us. I was just angry with her for breaking up the family. But five days later my husband rang me to say actually, he had done what he was accused of. I was shocked. He’s been in prison ever since.

As soon as I heard what my husband had actually done, I went to my daughter and I said to her “I believe you”. I said, “It’s going to be just you and your brother and me now. Let’s do this together”.

My daughter has had an awful time. She’s in care because she can’t live at home. She feels guilty and thinks she ruined the family. She and her Dad used to be really close and she thinks sometimes that it is her fault that he’s in prison. Other times she just feels angry at him for everything. She tried to commit suicide at one point, she self-harms, and she has been in and out of the hospital and different institutions ever since.

Social services have sent her back home a few times, but she really can’t be home. This house holds memories but it’s one of the reasons my daughter can’t come home. Whenever she comes home it sets her off because this is where the abuse happened.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have my youngest son. He knows his Dad is in prison, but he doesn’t know why. I don’t want to tell him why, but I know that I need to. He’s having attachment issues because he lost his dad suddenly. One moment we were just having dinner, the next, the police came in and were arresting his dad. So my son did some work with Charlotte, his support worker at Children Heard and Seen. They went through the Children Heard and Seen Workbook. He loved it. Now he does weekly Monday creative sessions. It has definitely helped him.

It’s been awful missing my husband, my partner, my friend. We were together 17 years. I feel almost completely alone. Friends have been judging me for my decisions and money has been hard. I have three credit cards now. I need to sell the house, but I don’t want to move at the same time. I live right next to a friend who has turned out to be very supportive during this when others have judged me.

She’s hosted us twice now for Christmas and checks in to make sure I’m alright. I would hate to move from her now.

At first, no one believed what my husband did. When he was released after that first arrest, people were messaging saying “we’ll get through this together” and that sort of thing. When he was rearrested six days later, people just didn’t believe it. They struggled to believe that such an upstanding member of the community, wasn’t who they thought he was.

I had one friend I used to go on family weekend trips with and who I thought I could trust 100%. We just aren’t as close anymore. She was very judgmental of decisions I made that I didn’t have much of a choice about. Her judgement and missing her friendship has hit me harder than missing my husband. I was so vulnerable and low, and she just didn’t really support me in that time nor help to steer me in the right direction.

When parents split up, they normally share custody of their children. When one of them is in prison, this doesn’t happen. I love my children, but a night off occasionally would be lovely. As I don’t have any family that can help, it really has been especially difficult.

You just have to keep going. Keep your face smiling so you can take care of your children. I’m worried about my youngest most. He just doesn’t want to talk, he’s having this trouble in school, he has trouble making friends because he’s so angry. I don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve contacted so many charities since the beginning of this, some useful, some okay, and some haven’t contacted me back at all. My social worker suggested I reach out to Children Heard and Seen and they’ve been a pleasure since. Children Heard and Seen have embraced us and have been just brilliant for my son.