The health impact on children affected by parental imprisonment

Sarah Beresford, Nancy Loucks, Ben Raikes

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Scotland, England and Wales have the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe. A number of studies have highlighted the devastating impact of parental imprisonment on children. As well as a significant sense of loss, many children experience stigma, social isolation, shame and fear. This underlines the need to use non-custodial measures wherever possible to reduce the disruption and trauma of a parent’s imprisonment. Parental imprisonment can have a negative impact on children’s short-term emotional well-being, as well as their long-term health and social prospects. Women, who are more likely to be primary carers, tend to receive short sentences for non-violent crimes without consideration of the impact on their children. Separation from a mother is particularly traumatic, and children affected often face greater disruption as it is more likely to involve other changes (eg, carer, home and school). Children with imprisoned mothers often reside with grandparents, who may also need practical and financial support.

Despite the adversities they face, children affected by imprisonment are rarely recognised as a distinct group within the systems and structures that should protect them, and no government agency is responsible for their well-being. While no systematic recording and monitoring system is in place, a 2019 report estimates that around 312 000 children are affected annually by parental imprisonment in England and Wales.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000275
Number of pages3
JournalBMJ Paediatrics Open
Issue number1
Early online date10 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2020


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