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Parental Imprisonment

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th February 2015.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12266, in the name of Mary Fee, on “An unfair sentence”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put, and I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible. I also invite members who are leaving the chamber and, indeed, members of the public who are leaving the public gallery to do so quickly and quietly.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the publication of a new report by NSPCC and Barnardo’s, An Unfair Sentence: All Babies Count: a Spotlight on Babies in the Criminal Justice System; understands that between 3,400 and 4,600 children under the age of two are affected by parental imprisonment in Scotland each year, including many in Glasgow; considers that there has been little focus on how best to meet the social, psychological and emotional needs of infants when their mothers or fathers are in prison; understands that the impact of imprisonment on families makes meeting babies’ needs especially challenging; believes that, by understanding these impacts, support can be provided for parents, carers and babies at this critical time in a child’s development, and notes the view that, to make a difference there is a need for a national action plan for babies affected by the criminal justice system and careful integration between health, early years and criminal justice agencies.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I am pleased to speak to my members’ business motion on the report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Barnardo’s, “An unfair sentence—All Babies Count: Spotlight on the Criminal Justice System”, which highlights the issue of babies and parental imprisonment and reviews the evidence on how babies are affected by imprisonment, what services are effective and how practice can be improved.

Pregnancy and the first years of a baby’s life are important in giving a child a healthy start. Mothers need support and care during pregnancy and, once born, babies need a safe and stimulating environment and a healthy early relationship with their care givers. Not receiving those will lead to adverse effects on the baby’s physical, social and emotional development.

There has been no empirical study of the effect of imprisonment on infants in the United Kingdom and the knowledge that is currently available is based on psychological theory. The report details mental health problems for women in prison and their children, and finds that women in prison are five times more likely to have mental health problems than women in the general population and that children of prisoners have at least twice as high a risk of developing mental health problems as their peers and three times as high a risk of exhibiting antisocial or delinquent behaviour. That can result in intergenerational offending, with an estimated 65 per cent of boys with a parent in prison likely to go on to offend themselves.

The negative effects of parental imprisonment on infant development and future prospects have clearly been identified. However, it is difficult to begin to help this vulnerable group when we do not have exact figures. Estimates show that there are between 20,000 and 27,000 children under the age of 18 who are affected by parental imprisonment in Scotland. Using those estimates, and assuming that the age distribution of children with parents in prison is the same as children in the general population, the NSPCC estimates that between 3,400 and 4,600 infants under the age of three are affected.

There is currently no systematic approach to quantifying how many babies have a parent in prison in Scotland. However, in the Scottish Prison Service’s 13th prisoner survey, almost two thirds of female prisoners and half of male prisoners—65 and 52 per cent, respectively—reported having children.

The report specifies some examples of interventions that are delivered in prisons, which are beginning to emerge. However, the success of those schemes to date tends to be judged more on the outcomes for the parent than for the infant. The intervention programmes are being delivered by a range of third sector organisations, including Family Action, the Prison Advice and Care Trust, Mellow Parenting, the NSPCC and the Aberlour Child Care Trust. However, those interventions are not centrally organised and it seems to come down to luck whether the mothers of infants are able to participate in the programmes.

The report by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s highlighted six key recommendations on how outcomes can be improved. It says that the Scottish Government should formally identify infants affected by the criminal justice system as a specific vulnerable group; that the Scottish Government should introduce child impact assessments for those who are on custodial and non-custodial sentences; that local councils should develop a system of data sharing between early years services, parenting, family support services and local offender management; that a national framework of outcomes and standards for babies affected by criminal justice should be created in order to integrate maternal and infant health policy, early years services and criminal justice; that the needs of infants who are affected by the criminal justice system should be addressed in children’s services planning and the planning of offender management services in order to co-ordinate those; and, finally, that support based on evidence should be given to parents in prison with a particular focus on promoting sensitive care giving.

In the majority of countries that allow mothers to live with their babies in prison, the maximum age limit is generally three, which is double that of the United Kingdom. Ensuring that babies can live with their mothers while they are in prison can have a positive developmental influence. However, a recent inspection of the mother and baby unit at HMP Cornton Vale branded the unit unfit for purpose, which is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.

The report is not the first one to look at the wider subject of children who are affected by parental imprisonment. Numerous reports have been conducted by third sector organisations, with each focusing on its own specific angle and contributing to the growing body of research into this issue. Those reports include “Not Seen. Not Heard. Not Guilty” by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, which focused on issues with visiting and the actions of the Scottish Government, SPS and local authorities, and the Families Outside report, “The Role of Schools in Supporting Families Affected by Imprisonment”, which focused on education and the impact of the getting it right for every child policy.

As many members might know, I have recently lodged for consultation a proposal for a member’s bill—the support for children (impact of parental imprisonment) (Scotland) bill. The bill would place a statutory duty on the courts to order a child and family impact assessment after a sentencing decision had been handed down. The bill would amend the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 to specifically recognise children who are affected by parental imprisonment as one of the two groups—the other being looked-after children—in relation to which it is presumed that a child will have additional support needs.

My proposal is in line with some of the key recommendations that were made by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s in their report, and I hope that it will make a start in providing support for this group of unseen and vulnerable children. I urge everyone who has an interest in this area to respond to my consultation, and I hope that my fellow members can support my proposal.

The report recognises that there has been little focus on how best to meet the social, psychological and emotional needs of infants when their mothers or fathers are in prison. It highlights the impact of imprisonment on families and the fact that it makes meeting babies’ needs especially challenging. However, by understanding those issues, we can provide support for parents, carers and babies at this critical time in a child’s development.

I thank the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for the help and support that they have given me. I also thank members across the chamber who supported the motion, allowing it to be debated, and I look forward to listening to contributions from across the chamber.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We are a little tight for time, so I ask members to confine their speeches to closer to four minutes than we would normally expect.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I congratulate Mary Fee on securing the debate. I welcome Fiona McLeod to her new post; I have not heard her speak in the chamber as a minister, and I look forward to hearing her closing remarks.

This is a particularly important area. One of the major problems that we face is the fact that far too many children do not achieve effective attachment, and without effective attachment it is not possible for them to grow up into productive citizens who are free from all sorts of problems. Mary Fee outlined many of those problems.

I therefore begin by recommending to the minister that she and her officials read the recent report of the all-party parliamentary group at Westminster that is entitled “Building Great Britons”, which looks at the 1,001 critical days from conception to age two. It refers to when Tom McCabe was a minister here and to the Scottish efforts to develop early years interventions, which the Government—to give it due credit—has continued on a broad front. However, that work needs to be focused, organised and concentrated on those for whom the attachment risks are greatest.

In order to do that, we must ensure, first, that we have adequate data. How many infants have imprisoned parents? There are guesses around, but no one is certain. How many prisoners are parents to infants? How many female prisoners are pregnant? Who cares for infants when they are separated from their mothers? We must have those data. The numbers suggest that the issues are significant.

The other problem is that, when mothers go into prison, not only are they separated from their children but their families are often highly disrupted. The number of female remand prisoners has risen by over a third since I was a minister. When I was a minister, I endeavoured to tackle the problem of women offenders with the McLean report. However, frankly, we have made almost no progress since then apart from the measures that I introduced, such as the time-out centre and making sure that women fine defaulters do not go to prison. Those figures have gone down significantly, but the number of women on remand has gone up massively. We also need to think about not just the women offenders who have children but the fathers, because one of the problems is that, when fathers are involved, their disengagement from the process of parenting makes a huge difference.

The all-party group report to which I referred looks at the number of specialist perinatal teams that exist across the United Kingdom. Many areas and regions that have smaller populations than Scotland have up to five such specialist teams; Scotland has one. If we are to have leadership in the area, we need more of those specialist perinatal teams.

I recommend that the Government consider the recent initiative in the Forth valley area to develop the Butterfly Baby Clinic’s parent-infant partnership, to which the UK Government will contribute £100,000. It is a mechanism that helps parents to understand the profile and portrait of their own child and to engage in attachment. I know that the minister is very interested in that and I hope that she will consider supporting the development of the Butterfly PIP not just for the Forth valley area but for the whole of Scotland. It helps parents to recognise the signs in their children of needing consolation and needing to be fed, and it covers all the body language responses that they may have. That is critical, particularly in the group of women in prison who have additional needs, such as those with poor mental health.

Presiding Officer, you asked us to confine ourselves to four minutes, so I will conclude by saying that substance misuse—involving both alcohol and drugs—is a big problem and I look forward to hearing from the minister, fairly soon, what progress has been made on foetal alcohol syndrome, which is another contributory factor in poor attachment.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you for your brevity.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Mary Fee for, in particular, bringing this debate to the chamber and, in general, her work not only on babies but on children. The topic is one that Aileen Campbell, who is on maternity leave from her post as Minister for Children and Young People, often raised in Parliament. Mary Fee has picked it up and run with it. I have no doubt that Fiona McLeod, the temporary Minister for Children and Young People, will support her motion.

There is something fundamentally tragic about this issue. Sometimes, because of the nature of the offence, the situation cannot be avoided. However, anyone who, like me, has ever seen the mother and baby unit has seen the tragedy in it.

The issue is significant. I always remember the statistic that I have perhaps found to be the most shocking: more children in Scotland will suffer the imprisonment of a parent than will suffer the divorce of a parent. I did not believe that on first hearing, but I am told that that is the case.

We know the effect that parental imprisonment has on babies and children, as Mary Fee and Richard Simpson mentioned and as the minister will doubtless comment on. The work of Harry Burns and others is quite clear about the effect of alienation. Indeed, almost half of the children of women in Cornton Vale will go on to be prisoners. That is a shameful statistic, which is damning for us all as a society. Stigmatisation and pressure also affects their children, partners and other family members. We must always remember that those children have committed no offence; they have been convicted of no crime. They are guilty of absolutely nothing other than being the child of or having a relationship with someone who has offended, and that has to be taken account of.

We should view the glass as half full, not half empty. Good work has been done. The work of external third sector agencies has been mentioned. Faith groups in particular have done good work, not simply in their work with children but on family centres. That has changed the whole nature and attitude around going to the prison estate.

Some issues cannot be dealt with; we can only mitigate them. At the end of the day, visiting a prison is, fundamentally, visiting a secure institution. That cannot be changed. We must also be realistic in our expectations of such an institution. Prisons cannot be a hospital, a college, a nursery, a crèche and an academic institution and expect to match all those sectors in the outside world. However, they do a remarkable job in ensuring that they provide as best they can for the multiple issues that must be dealt with.

The SPS has taken that on board and, as I said, with the work of the faith groups, family centres have changed. Good work has been done not only on imprisoned parents’ relationships with babies, but in other areas. That includes work on literacy and reading, and the work in Saughton prison on male prisoners’ interactions with their children. That work is replicated elsewhere as something to be supported. There is even the use of the Boys Brigade or the scouts—I cannot remember which—at Low Moss prison to try to normalise what can never be a normal situation: visiting a parent in prison. All that is testimony to the good work that is on-going.

As members have said, work still has to be done. I have no doubt that the minister will acknowledge, as does the SPS, that progress has been made. However, more information must be found, because we are in uncharted waters. Fundamentally, we must remember that we can mitigate and do as much as we can to normalise the situation but, at the end of the day, visiting anyone or having a child in prison is an abnormal situation. The best solution is that people do not go to prison in the first place.

Photo of Jayne Baxter Jayne Baxter Labour

The NSPCC and Barnardo’s report is invaluable. We should be grateful to them for undertaking the work to produce it. We should take heed of the considered recommendations that it contains.

A child’s future is heavily influenced by their time in the womb and the environment that surrounds them as an infant. Young children are heavily influenced by their surroundings. It is tragic to think of babies growing up in prisons and in care due to parental imprisonment. They are innocent victims, and the criminal justice system should do everything possible to mitigate the harm that they experience.

One of the report’s most worrying findings is that there is insufficient data on the scale of needs. It is unacceptable that there has been little improvement in the quality of the data since a United Kingdom Government review in 2007 described children of prisoners as “invisible”.

Every year in Scotland, tens of thousands of children and young people under the age of 18 are affected by parental imprisonment. The report’s approximation that between 3,400 and 4,600 infants a year are affected by parental imprisonment is horrifying. It is unacceptable that estimations are necessary; that information should be collected and reported.

Almost two thirds of female prisoners and more than half of male prisoners are parents. There is a body of evidence that those who are pregnant require a significantly higher level of medical intervention. The fact that two further mother and baby units are planned for the Scottish prison estate is a welcome development. Sadly, there is no mother and baby unit in Fife. I would like that issue to be addressed in future.

Pregnant women need flexibility in relation to their healthcare and other practicalities. Simply because a woman is in prison, it does not mean that she does not need that flexibility. Although some pregnant women have committed very serious offences and need to be in prison, we must take into account the impact that the conditions in which they are held have on their children.

The report raises the problem of parental contact when a parent is in prison. Failure on the part of prisoners to maintain regular contact with their children is a serious barrier to successful post-release reunification, and failure successfully to reunite with a child is detrimental to the wellbeing not only of that child but the parent, which reduces the likelihood of rehabilitation and increases the likelihood of recidivism.

The recent development by the Scottish Prison Service of a national framework for setting standards for parenting in prisons is a welcome development. However, the reality is that, with downward pressure on budgets in criminal justice, the strategy outlined in the framework may exist only on paper. Although the support required for parents in prison and their children is costly, it is clearly in line with the Scottish Government’s stated strategy of preventative spending.

Once an imprisoned mother gives birth to her baby, the baby is often taken into care. That is not done lightly. The report notes that, in the 12 months up to September 2013, six of the eight babies born in prison were taken into care.

We must also, as in so many cases, respect kinship carers. Relatives—often grandparents—step into the breach to care for the children of imprisoned parents. Family support workers, who work hard to provide as much support as possible to kinship carers, can offer them invaluable help. The report finds that provision to be “sparse and inconsistent”. Sadly, that is just one of the many ways that kinship carers are let down by the system.

Some aspects of what we do in Scotland are positive. It is a good thing, for example, that the national health service in Scotland is required to provide to mothers in prison the same healthcare, including antenatal care, that is provided in the community. We should welcome the fact that two new mother and baby units are to be built here and that we do not routinely reject applications from mothers to attend them, unlike in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Obviously, this issue also affects men, but the primary focus must be on women. We should bear in mind a key finding of the Corston report:

“Women and men are different. Equal treatment of men and women does not result in equal outcomes.”

According to a related report from the Quakers, women are more likely than men to be held on remand. The impact that that can have, even on those who are acquitted, is enormous. As the Quakers report outlines,

“she may have lost her job, her home or her place on mental health or drug rehabilitation programmes in the meantime. For children, having a mother placed in pre-trial detention has many of the same effects as having a mother imprisoned following conviction.”

I am pleased that this issue has been brought to the Scottish Parliament. The report shows us that there is insufficient reporting and that there are statistical requirements. The other core recommendations contained in the report are sensible and measured. The essence of the problem is that we do not have enough information and statistics on the issue, and we do not have co-ordination and planning on it.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I thank Mary Fee for bringing an important debate to the Parliament. There is no doubt that the impact on a child of the imprisonment of a parent is an issue that, at best, has for far too long not been given the prominence that it should have and, at worse, is virtually ignored.

On statistics, it is alarming and concerning that in Scotland a staggering 27,000 children each year experience a parent’s imprisonment. To put that in perspective, as Kenny MacAskill said, that equates to about twice as many children as experience a parent’s divorce.

As the motion recognises, imprisonment affects the whole family in a number of ways. For example, children are likely to move house quite frequently, which can mean changing schools and being separated from friends. Often, multiple care arrangements have to be put in place, which can result in the family being separated and siblings having to live apart.

Imprisonment often attracts high-profile newspaper coverage about the individual and their crime. As teachers will testify, the trauma, the deep shame and, sometimes, the bullying that the children then experience are clear to see and can result in a deterioration in behaviour and performance in school. In the worst-case scenario, they might develop into mental health and physical problems.

Clearly, as the motion highlights, there are social, psychological and emotional impacts on the children as a result of a parent being imprisoned. Those issues are simply not being sufficiently addressed, which is why there is a desperate need for assessments of the impact on children to be undertaken at the point of sentencing.

Therefore, it is disappointing that Dame Elish Angiolini’s commission on women offenders did not make a distinct recommendation on child impact assessments. It did not do so because such assessments are included in criminal justice social work reports, but those reports are not carried out for every case, and nor do they always include detailed information about family circumstances or the impact on dependants.

The NSPCC and Barnardo’s are to be congratulated on the new report “An unfair sentence”, which analyses and highlights the detrimental impact of a custodial sentence on children under two. Equally worrying is the Barnardo’s statistic that 65 per cent of boys who have a parent in prison will go on to offend.

I very much welcome the fact that, with her proposed member’s bill, Mary Fee seeks to address the adverse impact on children of a parent being imprisoned. It is also important that, at the point of sentencing, child impact assessments are available to judges and that they have regard to them. I was encouraged that the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice recognised that point.

Photo of Hanzala Malik Hanzala Malik Labour

I thank Mary Fee for bringing the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Barnardo’s report, “An unfair sentence—All Babies Count” to the Scottish Parliament’s attention. It is a pleasure to give my full support to the motion.

Childhood and, in particular, infancy are crucial stages of development in a person’s life. As we now know, every year in Scotland, between 3,400 and 4,600 children under the age of two have a parent in prison. Time in prison is sometimes unavoidable, but we need to avoid children suffering for their parents’ wrongdoing.

The report by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s shows the need to improve the recognition and identification of, and action for, vulnerable children among us. In addition, further research is needed on the development of under-threes with parents in the criminal justice system.

One would hope that all children in Scotland could have healthy and happy lives. Unfortunately, some infants, such as those mentioned in the report, have the dice loaded against them practically from the start of their lives.

The issue of women in the criminal justice system has been a concern for some time. Glasgow City Council has created the Glasgow community justice authority to monitor and assist local partners in providing justice services to the community and to reduce reoffending. Such organisations can provide the basis for support and future research into the needs of babies whose parents are in the criminal justice system.

I support Mary Fee in her pursuit of a response on the issue, given the tragic reality that many children are facing, as the report informs us. I will be very interested to hear what the minister intends to do in view of the report and today’s debate.

It is clear that more needs to be done to protect our young in society. We are talking about young children and infants whose needs are camouflaged, who are not on the radar and who cannot readily be identified. They grow up facing a great many challenges. As a result, they can be seriously disadvantaged in society. Therefore, it is critical that we take all steps and measures to ensure that we do not allow them to fall into the traps. As a community and as a Parliament, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that they are safeguarded, and I hope that the Government will assist Mary Fee with her bill, which aims to achieve that goal.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

I, too, congratulate Mary Fee on securing the debate, which follows on from yesterday’s joint meeting of the cross-party group on children and young people and the cross-party group on families affected by imprisonment.

I thank the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for their valuable contribution. Although their report builds on earlier work, including the Corston and Angiolini reports, the statistics and analysis still make stark reading, as other members have highlighted. Up to 4,600 children under the age of two are affected by parental imprisonment each year in Scotland, and two thirds of female prisoners and half of male prisoners report that they have children. Those children are at at least double the risk of developing mental health problems and are three times more likely to be involved in antisocial or delinquent behaviour.

The report highlights areas of good practice, but it also sets challenges for the Government, the Scottish Prison Service, the national health service and other partners. The first and most important of those challenges is to recognise that infants who are affected by criminal justice processes are a vulnerable group. They need to be identified and there needs to be greater awareness of their needs. In addition, a national action plan needs to be introduced to ensure that there is a co-ordinated multi-agency response.

I know that Mary Fee seeks to secure progress on a number of those action points through a member’s bill. I commend her for that and am happy to support her in that work. She might want to consider whether the impact on infants should be understood even earlier on in the justice system—for example at the remand stage.

Parental contact during the early years is invaluable. That is when bonds are forged and stable loving relationships are established. Parents need those opportunities to develop their skills and to gain confidence and self-esteem. As Sir Harry Burns has said:

“Unless we look after children properly, nurture them consistently, support them and their parents, who often don’t know how to be parents, we will continue to fail and we will continue to reap the consequences in terms of criminality and poor health.”

That is why I want greater emphasis on the development of parental life skills for those for whom prison is the only appropriate disposal. One in three young men in Polmont is a father or an expectant father. We need to equip them for that role. We also need to provide more peer support for the handful of women who give birth behind bars each year, and who are deprived of the shared learning opportunities that other parents normally have at that time. Perinatal healthcare for them needs to be brought up to the standard that applies in the community.

I was also pleased that the report highlighted the potential to extend compulsory statutory throughcare services, which are currently afforded only to those who serve sentences of four years or more. That would support thousands more parents during their release, and it would make families more resilient and improve reintegration.

Of course, the best way to limit the impact of parental imprisonment is in the first place to reduce the numbers who are imprisoned. The collateral damage of sentencing policy is currently not measured or considered nearly enough. Just a third of women who are remanded in custody go on to receive a custodial sentence, and in 2011-12 four fifths of the women in question served sentences of six months or less. Thousands of children are needlessly left behind each year because their mothers and fathers are given ineffective and disruptive short-term stints in custody. Alternatives such as community-based justice programmes and diversion-from-prosecution projects are often more successful in reducing reoffending. They are not soft options, but they help to preserve familial links and to limit the damage on dependent children.

We need to identify those in need and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. There is only one chance to get this right for each and every child. A whole-family approach to the delivery of justice would not only protect the rights of children; it would also send a clear message that their needs must not be an afterthought.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I congratulate Mary Fee on lodging an important motion and I welcome the report, with its focus on babies and the criminal justice system, which can disastrously disrupt a young child’s relationship with a parent at a particularly crucial time in his or her life.

I said “parent”, but we need to focus on mothers, because the report tells us that three quarters of children stay with their mother when their father is in prison, but only 5 per cent of children stay in the family home when the mother is in prison. Therefore, I strongly support the first recommendation, on formally identifying infants who are affected by the criminal justice system, and the second recommendation, on formally identifying women in prison as being an especially vulnerable group. However, the problem is worsened because under the current arrangements women tend to be incarcerated quite a long distance from their home, so it is difficult for a child to maintain the relationship with the mother and to rebuild it after release from prison.

I hope that what Margaret Mitchell and I learned about when we went to Cornton Vale with the Equal Opportunities Committee five years ago or so does not happen now. We were shocked to be told that the loss of visits by their child could be used as a punishment on mothers in prison. I hope that that does not happen again.

I was very influenced on the subject by the Equal Opportunities Committee’s inquiry at that time, but I have also been strongly influenced by the work of Circle Scotland. That organisation is based in West Pilton in my constituency, but it does superb work far further afield as well as with families in my constituency. I was pleased to see that it is mentioned on page 35 of the report. In fact, the report has quite a lot of information about Circle’s FABI—families affected by imprisonment—service, which works with women who are coming out of prison, but also with carers of children who have a mother in prison. It also helps babies and children to visit their mothers when they are in prison.

More generally, the use of the voluntary sector in such work is particularly appropriate. That is more empowering for women in prison and women who are coming out of prison, but sustained funding is very important for that work, of course.

I know from my conversations with Circle that ideally it would—as, I am sure, would many in the chamber and beyond—prefer to work with mothers in a range of alternatives to prison to working with mothers in prison, whether the alternative is diversions from prosecution, effective community sentences or other options. It certainly does not want to work with all the women who are on remand, for example. We heard about that from Richard Simpson and others. Of women on remand, 70 per cent never receive a sentence, but in the meantime, of course, the relationships with the family break down and children are separated from their mother.

When there must be prison, let us have local units that are near the family, let us have family visits at times that suit the family and let us have funding for poorer families who cannot afford regular visits.

I welcome Mary Fee’s proposed bill, of course, and wish her all the best with its progress.

I hear what Mary Fee says about family impact assessments after sentences; I certainly could not disagree with that. However, ideally, I would like to see family impact assessments before sentencing, because the issue is so important.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I begin by thanking Mary Fee for lodging the motion for debate this afternoon. I also thank all the members who signed it in order to allow it to be debated, and all those who have contributed to the debate.

It is fair to say that we all want Scotland to be the best place in the world for children to grow up, so the welfare of our children is of paramount importance. The United Nations convention on the rights of the child sets out the fundamental rights that each and every child should enjoy, irrespective of their family circumstances.

The debate is timely because, last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and I had a meeting with representatives from Families Outside, Barnardo’s and the NSPCC to discuss the report in more detail. I would like to say that that was a positive meeting, but the top line that I took from it was in something that one of the researchers said. We need to work out how to identify the babies and young people without stigmatising them. That is a key point that we have to take from the debate. Kenny MacAskill and Margaret Mitchell alluded to that in their comments.

Having listened to the debate and read the report, I think that identifying the child’s needs without stigmatising the child is embedded in our getting it right for every child approach, which we legislated to make statutory in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. It is about all children and young people’s needs. Their wellbeing is paramount.

When I was thinking about this issue, I asked myself whether, in everything that we are doing already for children through GIRFEC and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, we are sure that we also recognise and support this particularly vulnerable group—the babies about whom we are talking. The holistic definition of wellbeing means that all aspects of a child’s life are considered, including parental and wider family circumstances. I hope that that will mean that our strategy captures those babies.

GIRFEC is for all children, including vulnerable groups such as the babies who are affected by parental imprisonment and by the wider justice system. We know that GIRFEC works, which is why we legislated for it. One of the key provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 for all children, but particularly for this vulnerable group of babies, will be the named person. The named person will be the single point of contact, from birth, for children, parents and all the practitioners around those children. The named person will help to prevent any children who need extra help from slipping through the net. Hanzala Malik referred to that. Children whose needs require co-ordinated planning, including the vulnerable babies about whom we are talking, will have to have a child’s plan that is managed by a lead professional to help in that.

My question was this: are we doing everything that we can? We are doing a lot, but when we are making provision such as the named person, lead professional and the child’s plan, for example, we always need to think about the vulnerable babies.

The meeting that I attended last week agreed that I should go away and look at what is already happening, and set a timeline for what we are doing. It was incredibly interesting for me to read about all the things that we are doing to support mothers, fathers and their children when the mothers or fathers are imprisoned. Just last night I and other members were in the garden lobby to meet people from the public-social partnerships that are funded by the £18 million reducing reoffending change fund. The six organisations that were there last night were absolutely fascinating and I came away with a wealth of information, as I always do. Those organisations provide mentoring for prisoners and people who are liable to offend and reoffend. I went round every single stall, and when I asked about the family support that they offer I was most impressed that every single one talked about how that is intrinsic to the work that they do with young men and women.

Meeting the folk from the shine mentoring service for women was inspirational. I cannot name all the organisations, but they were all interesting. I want to refer to one group in particular. I was speaking to people from the chance to change programme; I spoke not just to those who work with the young folk, but to a young woman called Kayleigh, who wanted me to say how working with chance to change had made such a difference to her life. That is the sort of project that we should be looking at.

Malcolm Chisholm knows a lot about Circle and the work that it is doing in West Pilton. It has received £75,000 from the early years policy unit as a strategic funding partner. Aileen Campbell visited Circle on 21 March 2013 and was very impressed. In my reading, I have found that Circle is delivering programmes from Triple P and Mellow Parenting, and it is delivering the bookbug scheme, which is very important to get parents working with their young babies.

There are lots of areas where we are already doing work that I could talk about. We have, for example, committed £420,000 from the early years change fund to Barnardo’s to continue the five to thrive project that is currently running in HMP Perth.

I would like to pick up on a few of the points that have been made, and to run through what we have been talking about today. We have talked about data collection: Mary Fee, Richard Simpson, Jayne Baxter and Malcolm Chisholm all made points on that. I know that the Scottish Prison Service is looking at methods of collecting information about prisoners who are parents. Currently that work is done at the care-screening stage, but that relies on self-reporting, so the SPS is considering other methods.

Many folk talked about women offenders and being in prison. As members will know, since we made the decision not to go ahead with the prison in Inverclyde, the Government has embarked on an extensive consultation and is looking at how we can provide more local provision for women who have to go to prison, or community provision for women offenders.

I want to talk about the child impact assessments. I will read an important quote from Dame Elish Angiolini, who appeared before the Justice Committee in 2012. She said:

“We must move away from creating more bureaucracy—more reports—and look at what would make a difference to the sentencing process. Consideration of children should be critical to that process, but I believe that such issues should arise out of the professionals’ training—it should be their bread and butter. That is how social workers, defence solicitors and judges should approach the matter.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 26 June 2012; c 1582.]

I hope that GIRFEC makes it a bread-and-butter issue.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

The point that I have tried to make all along in relation to child impact assessments is that although I acknowledge that in some cases they are done, the focus is on the offender and not on the child. We need to move the focus on to the child if we are ever to make a real difference.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I take Mary Fee back to my opening remarks on all the provisions under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, including the named person and the child’s plan. When Dame Elish Angiolini talks about the focus on the child being the “bread and butter”, it is a bread-and-butter issue—GIRFEC means it is the bread and butter.

It is clear that we all have an active role to play in delivering the support that those in our care require, and we are committed to working with the men and women, their families, the community, and all our partners in order to encourage and maintain meaningful family contact throughout their time in custody.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you all for taking part in this important debate.

13:18 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—