Yesterday marked a momentous step in helping some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children as the Scottish Parliament voted for my amendments that aim to support children and families affected by a parent or carer’s imprisonment.
Figures estimate that more than 27,000 children in Scotland have a parent of carer in prison. I say estimate because an estimate is the best we can do at the moment. We have no way of systematically collecting or recording information about these children.
Until we can accurately identify these children, and the impact of a parent being imprisoned on them, their needs will not be properly taken into account by local authorities and other public bodies. They will continue to slip through the net.
These unfortunate children are often the forgotten victims of crime and are more likely than their peers to become offenders as adults. My amendments will ensure that support is given to such children who face negative outcomes such as stigma, bullying, trauma, mental health problems and lower educational outcomes, and research by the Scottish Child & Young Persons Commissioner, Tam Baillie, shows that children with a parent in prison are often too scared to ask for help due to the stigma and bullying that comes with prison.
Back in September I lodged an amendment at Stage 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to introduce Child and Family Impact Assessments so that when a parent or carer is sent to custody, we know what support that child and family needs.
Only with cross-party support from the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green/Independent group MSP’s did the amendment manage to pass at the Justice Committee, one of the few Scottish Parliament committee’s without an SNP majority courtesy of John Finnie MSP resigning from the Nationalists and staying on the Justice Committee.
The issue was picked up by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale at the following First Minister’s Questions. Kezia has long supported my work with children affected by imprisonment and I was delighted that she raised the issue with Nicola Sturgeon.
Unfortunately the best the First Minister could clarify, when pressed not to use her majority to remove the amendment at Stage 3, was to consider the proposal. Let’s not forget that had the SNP MSP’s on the Justice Committee won the vote, we would have been back at the start of this campaign and children and families would continue to suffer for years to come.
Ahead of Stage 3 the Scottish Government accepted that my amendment, passed at Stage 2, should remain, albeit with a slight amendment to place the duty of Child and Family Impact Assessment’s to the Scottish Prison Service.
By passing the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill this week, the Scottish Parliament has taken a momentous step to tackle re-offending and reduce the inequalities we find in society.
I am proud to have had the support of Barnardo’s Scotland and Families Outside, who have been campaigning with me for four years to see this much-needed change in the law.