Improving outcomes for children affected by parental involvement with the criminal justice system in Scotland

Long, Tony and Lockwood, Kelly and Loucks, Nancy and Nugent, Briege and Raikes, Ben and Sharratt, Kathryn and Gallagher, Louise (2022) Improving outcomes for children affected by parental involvement with the criminal justice system in Scotland. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 17 (3). pp. 1883-1908. ISSN 1871-2576 (

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With 20-27,000 children in Scotland experiencing a parent's imprisonment and many more their parent's involvement in the wider criminal justice system, it is vital that children's needs and preferences are understood and acted upon. Parental imprisonment or involvement with the justice system short of imprisonment is a cause of deleterious chronic stress and adverse childhood experience. This 18-month participative study in Scotland was designed to establish the problems of having a parent involved in the criminal justice system and to co-produce solutions with affected families. The experiences of 14 children and young people were elicited through interviews (supplemented with input from parents and professionals), followed by a family consultation event. Schools elicited complex relationships of both stress and threat, an outlet, and a means for positive achievement despite the stressors. Schools need proactively to identify children who are struggling emotionally and to provide sensitive, discreet support. Children felt victimised by authorities and the community, experiencing devastating family disruption and loss of childhood. Community-based interventions could educate others about the impact on children of victimisation. Young people emphasised the need to humanise their experience from point-of-arrest to years after release. They sought more child-friendly prison visiting, physical contact, and meaningful activity with their parent. Parents wanted the development of parent-to-parent and young people-led support groups. A means to signpost affected families to self-support groups is needed. A model of symbiotic harm is used to offer theoretical context to the findings.