Bubbles, Brick Walls and Connectivity. Families affected by parental imprisonment and their experiences of community-based support.

Brookes, Lorna (2014) Bubbles, Brick Walls and Connectivity. Families affected by parental imprisonment and their experiences of community-based support. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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It is estimated that around 200,000 children in the UK experience the imprisonment of a parent. Imprisonment has been described as a family affair, as families suffer the brunt of the punishment supposedly directed at the offender. Despite an awareness of this impact there is a distinct lack of community-based support services for families affected by parental imprisonment, and no central support strategy from government.
This practitioner-researcher study aimed to discover how ‘whole-families’ affected by parental imprisonment (children, parents/carers and parents who are/have been prisoners) experience community-based support. A collective case study approach was utilised. Eight families who were supported by the UK based charity, Person Shaped Support (PSS) contributed their experiences; this comprised 18 participants; 5 children, 8 parents/carers, and 5 parents who had been in prison. All participants took part in one audio-recorded in-depth interview, either at PSS or in their own home. Some participants offered further insights via conversations with the researcher, which were recorded in the form of handwritten notes.
Transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis; they were analyzed individually and then considered as part of their family grouping. Early themes from each family were then compared and contrasted from family to family. Four major themes were identified: (1) ‘Isolation and Someone to Talk To’; (2) ‘Feeling Understood and Being Judged’; (3) ‘Power, Secrets and Lies and Fighting Back’; and (4)’ Loss, Contact and Change’. Participants spoke of feeling isolated and marginalized, which some described like ‘being in bubbles’; they also described the ‘brick walls’ they experienced which reflected their frustrations of being judged and their conflict with statutory services, members of their communities and members of their own families. A tentative model centered on ‘Personal Connectivity’ is presented in which personal connectivity is seen to be the over-riding support need for these families. With enhanced personal connectivity, the families reported being able to form and maintain meaningful relationships, which helped them to better cope. Some participants also reported personal growth.
Recommendations are that practitioners who aim to help families affected by parental imprisonment should adopt a ‘whole-family’ systemic approach to practice and provide support through non-judgmental listening, conveying understanding, sharing knowledge (of the criminal justice system), providing opportunities for safe family contact, and opportunities for affected families to meet peers.

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