Hundreds of thousands of the country's most vulnerable children are being consigned to the shadows, Barnardo's new Chief Executive Javed Khan will say as he launches the charity's call for a national action plan to help children with a parent in prison, because government and services don't record or even ask about them.
Children with a parent in prison are some of the most overlooked and isolated in the UK and have disrupted childhoods that can ruin their life chances.
It is estimated that there are almost three times as many children with a parent in prison in England and Wales as there are in care – an estimated 200,000 children.
These children often face isolation, stigma, poverty and family breakdown – disruption which can contribute to a 65% likelihood of offending themselves.
Yet they are locked out of getting the specialist help they need. Despite their distress, no official record exists of the children of prisoners as neither the courts, government, nor local services ask routinely about them. And, because of social stigma, these children are unlikely to reveal themselves so remain hidden from local services.
Barnardo's new CEO Javed Khan will speak at a high level panel discussion in Westminster chaired by Cherie Booth CBE QC, to call for the government to take action for children with a parent in prison.
"Children with a parent in prison have done nothing wrong, yet they can be left feeling like they're serving a sentence themselves. They are the innocent victims. They feel isolated and ashamed – unable to talk about their situation because they are scared of being bullied and judged. They are often left traumatised having witnessed their parent's arrest and they can suddenly find themselves thrown into poverty and forced out of the place they call home.
"Yet because of the stigma, these distressing experiences can go unnoticed by school, health professionals and children's social care. But we don't know who or where they are and so their voices go unheard and their needs go unmet. That is why Barnardo's is launching a major new call on behalf of these children.
"We need to identify these children so that we can provide long term support and break the intergenerational offending that currently sees 65% of boys with a father in prison go on to offend. Courts must have a statutory duty to ask whether individuals remanded or sentenced to prison in England and Wales have children. We will only achieve fundamental change if there is someone within the Government to champion the cause for these children, so we are asking the Justice Secretary to appoint a lead minister for this group".
Barnardo's is calling for:
The Ministry of Justice to appoint a lead Minister to have responsibility for children of prisoners. They would ensure:
• Children are identified from the point of sentencing or remand, with courts in England and Wales statutorily obliged to ask about the children of people sent to prison and ensuring that adequate child care arrangements are in place.
• A National Action Plan for England is developed for cross-departmental implementation by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education.