November 4, 2021. News

Operation Paramount: Oxfordshire pilot scheme offers rapid access to support for children and families with a parent in prison

The Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit – working with Thames Valley Police and the charity Children Heard & Seen – is piloting in Oxfordshire a new process to rapidly identify children of a parent who is sent to prison, targeting a swift offer of support for the whole family.

The project aims to speed up the identification of those families who may need additional support, helping to tackle risk factors of young people being drawn into future crime or experiencing other problems. 

For the first time, data from the Prisons Service database is being used by the police not only to track a prisoner’s entry, movement through and eventual release from prison – but also to direct support to those vulnerable family members left behind at the point of their imprisonment.

Since October, the Thames Valley VRU have regularly conducted an assessment of those sent to prison whose home address is within the force area. Where a person has children who live in the Oxfordshire, a notification is generated which is passed to the local neighbourhood policing team.

A short visit is then  made, usually by a Police Community Support Officer (PSCO), to make contact with the family and to offer a referral to support provided by the dedicated charity for families with an imprisoned parent, Children Heard & Seen.

The offer of support is entirely voluntary. If the family accept, the visiting officer makes the referral on their behalf, or they can self-refer in their own time when ready, using the information provided.

In an initial assessment, Children Heard and Seen then work with the family to determine the developmental needs of each child, the nature of the parent’s offence and the child’s relationship with the imprisoned parent. This information is then used to create a tailored package of support. The charity offers one-to-one support with trained staff, volunteer mentoring, parent support, peer support groups for children, online activities for children, and family activity days.

Crest Advisory research undertaken in 2019 shows that:

Following an initial trial in the city of Oxford and after collating potential referrals from across Thames Valley’s three counties, it is anticipated that between 200-300 children will be identified yearly who would receive such an offer of support.

Following the initial trial in Oxford, Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council have supported an extended further trial across the whole of the county, and potentially other authority areas could also use the same approach elsewhere in the Thames Valley region.

Sgt Russ Massie, of the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit, said: 

“This initiative is a fantastic example of how we can use data and information that we the police receive to identify possible vulnerabilities. It allows us to make a rapid and positive offer of support for those families. Through this, we can address some of the root causes to future offending and other problems a child may go on to face.

“Children Heard & Seen have huge experience in working with those left behind when a parent is imprisoned, they know the pressure such a moment creates and how best to provide the right help in a private and independent way.”

Sarah Burrows, Chief Executive of Children Heard & Seen, said:

“Since 2014, we have been working to support children, young people and their families when a parent is imprisoned. We’re so excited to be involved in the pilot and hope that it marks the first step in children with a parent in prison being identified and offered support sooner on a national level.

“Children with a parent in prison can often be the victims of the parent’s offending, they might have witnessed an arrest which can be very traumatic. Our support is specialised to the individual needs of each child and family to help them maximise their potential and break the chain of intergenerational offending.

“As there are no existing systems to support and identify these children, so many are left to muddle through without support. Being able to identify children early and provide this support at such a crucial stage is the real benefit of this pilot. 

“It is incredible that Thames Valley Police, supported by the Violence Reduction Unit, is piloting this initiative to create lasting change for children.”

Councillor Liz Brighouse, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Youth Services, said:

“It is a shared priority that children across Oxfordshire are safe and supported, no matter what is happening around them.   

“This new approach being developed by the Violence Reduction Unit is helping to further join up work between our children services team, Thames Valley Police, and with a tried-and-tested supporting charity, so we can help children and young people overcome the challenges of having a parent imprisoned. 

“We will follow the pilot in Oxford city closely and hope it can be expanded across the county once the trial period has completed.”

Thames Valley Police’s Deputy Chief Constable, Jason Hogg, NPCC lead for prisons and lifetime offender management, said:

“Like all the best innovation – this is simple, efficient and supports interventions to help tackle the root causes of crime and harm at the earliest point.  We will be following the pilot closely, but I look forward to working with colleagues across the wider police service to share Thames Valley’s approach, which has been developed by the Violence Reduction Unit.”

Children Heard & Seen’s support offer within this pilot or their wider work is not directly funded by the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit or by Oxfordshire County Council.  You can learn more about their work on their website:

At a Halloween parent and family activity night
Children benefit from regular social activities as well as parental support