All Babies Count: spotlight on the criminal justice system - an unfair sentence How prison can impact on pregnancy and babies, and what can be done to help

Woman holding a babyPregnancy and the first years of a baby’s life are an important time in giving a child a healthy and safe start in life. Mothers need support and care during pregnancy. Once born, babies need a safe and stimulating environment and healthy early relationship with their caregivers.

These needs are more difficult to meet when parents are in prison.

This NSPCC report, in collaboration with Barnardo's, looks at what we know about babies whose parents are in the criminal justice system. It identifies areas of promising practice around supporting prisoners who are parents. It includes recommendations for policy and practice to help ensure that babies affected by their parents’ offending get the best start in life.

This report is part of our All Babies Count spotlight series on issues that affect families from pregnancy through the first years of life.

Authors: Susan Galloway, Alice Haynes and Chris Cuthbert
Published: 2014

  • Parents with offending behaviour often have additional needs (such as drug and alcohol problems or mental health problems) which may impact upon their capacity to provide safe and healthy care for their babies.
  • Having a parent in prison can disrupt family relationships, particularly the attachment relationship between parents and their babies.
  • Imprisoning pregnant women and babies in Mother and Baby Units can impact upon the health and wellbeing of those babies.
  • We don’t know exactly how many infants are affected by the criminal justice system. We estimate that around 11,800 0-2 year olds had a parent in prison in England and Wales in 2009, and that between 3,400 and 4,600 0-2 year olds in Scotland have a parent in prison each year.
  • There is generally little awareness amongst people who work with children about how infants are affected by parental offending.
  • There remain pressing questions about how best to meet the social, psychological and emotional needs of infants when their mothers are in prison.
  • Prison provides an opportunity to offer parenting support and programmes (such as the NSPCC’s Baby Steps) that can help improve parenting capacity and skills.
  • The issue of babies and children of offenders needs to be much more visible in policy making and in practice decisions around what happens to parents in the criminal justice system.
Acknowledgements 4
Executive summary 5
Introduction 8
Part 1: INSIGHT – What we know 13
Part 2: INNOVATION - Promising practice 27
Part 3: IMPACT - Improving policy and practice 36
Appendix A: England policy calls 40
Appendix B: Scotland policy calls 41
Appendix C: Developing understanding of how babies are affected by the criminal justice system: A research agenda 42
Bibliography 44

Please cite as: Galloway, S., Haynes, A. and Cuthbert, C. (2014) An unfair sentence: All babies count: spotlight on the criminal justice system. London: NSPCC.

All Babies Count Spotlight series

Our Spotlight reports are a series of papers on the developmental importance of pregnancy and infancy published as part of the NSPCC’s All Babies Count campaign.

All Babies Count aims to raise awareness of the importance of pregnancy and the first years of life to a child’s development. The NSPCC is calling for better early support for parents during this period to ensure all babies are safe and able to thrive.

Each Spotlight focuses on a different issue that affects families with babies and looks at what can be done to support parents to keep their infants safe and give them the care they need.

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