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Imprisoned dads get creative to bond with their kids

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

How would you handle spending years away from your kids? For dads in prison, their continued connection to their children has all manner of benefits for the family left behind.

Research shows that 30% of children with parents in prison suffer from poor mental health. Plus, 63% of boys with a father in prison will go on to offend. Studies have also shown that incarcerated dads connecting with their children lowers the chance of reoffending in the future.

A ‘Hidden Sentence’

Families of prisoners are often described as serving a ‘hidden sentence’. This describes the issues they face, including judgement from society, losing their home, and financial hardship.

Encouraging prisoners to get creative and make items for their children helps rebuild broken bonds between parent and child. Spurgeons charity works with prisoners on creative projects that benefit their children outside the walls. The work has been made into an online exhibition, entitled ‘The Art of Being a Dad’.

Connecting dads with their families

The Art of Being a Dad project was funded by the National Lottery Awards and spanned 5 prisons.

The bear above was created by a dad at HMP Feltham. Most of the prisoners there are between 18-21, and are young fathers. Some haven’t had a father figure in their life while growing up. Verlyn Andrews, a Family Services Worker, described how the creative process helped the prisoners ‘appreciate their loved ones more as they were thinking about them.’

Rebuilding bonds

Encouraging prisoners to think about fatherhood and put their feelings into creative endeavours helps repair family relationships. Prisoners were encouraged to write poems and make art pieces, some of which were given to their children.

30% of children of prisoners experience poor mental health. Building bridges between fathers and kids helps improve the lives of the family left outside the prison walls. The image below shows ‘anxiety owls’, sewn by prisoners and sent to their children to hug when they feel sad.

The ripple effect

While making family tree art, project worker Anna Stephenson-Knight described how the men approached the project. ‘You see the men – even the tough, dangerous criminals – in a different light when they’re carefully sticking little gems on gifts to send home. Those gifts mean so much to their families too. It helps to restart that connection,’ she explains.

The men were encouraged to use their creativity in choosing colours, materials and decorations for their family trees (as seen in the example at the top of the page).

‘We see the mums side of the story and the devastation that the family encounter. It’s a really sad situation for families,’ says Lisa Hall, Family Services Manager. ‘Seeing the children suffering because of the separation is difficult. It’s challenging to see such upset and sadness and the ripple effect of their dad being in prison.

‘In many families the relationships are so fractured that we have to go a really long way to rebuild those bonds and try and heal some of the damage.’

To find out more about Spurgeons’ work in prisons, click here.

To talk to other dads, visit our friendly forum.

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