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Imprisoned Fathers and their Children: A Reflection on Two Decades of Research

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Twenty years ago, the author co-led an extensive study for the UK Department of Health on the parenting role of imprisoned fathers in England and Wales. Against a background of children’s needs and rights, it examined the place of fatherhood in their lives, the meaning of paternal absence to a child, and the particular significance for children of a father who was absent by reason of imprisonment. The study also looked at the effect of a father’s imprisonment on the children’s mothers/other carers, and upon the fathers themselves. It chronicled the range of facilities available to children to help them maintain contact with their father during his imprisonment. Not unlike earlier pioneers in this research field it concluded that, despite pockets of good practice depending largely on the interest of individual prison staff and the voluntary sector, this group of children remained under-prioritised and ill-supported by statutory child care and criminal justice policy and practice. Over the last two decades, research has continued on the topic of imprisoned fathers and their children but it seems that, with honourable exceptions, little has changed for them during this period. This brief reflection addresses the possible reasons for this deficit in England and Wales, the lack of official statistical information, the shortage of longitudinal research, and the politicisation of crime. Recommendations surrounding research and planning, and the enhancement of public understanding, are proposed.
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Keywords: Imprisoned fathers; children; politicisation; public understanding; reflections; research

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Publication date: April 3, 2018

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