When Rico was 12 years old his parents were arrested and within a few months of each other they were both sent to prison.

In just a few months Rico’s world was turned upside down. He and his 8 year old sister witnessed a distressing home raid, and he lost his dad who was given a 6 year sentence. When he thought it was all over and began to feel safe again, his mother was sent to prison and given a two year sentence, which came as a complete shock to him and his family.

Rico didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his mum – she simply left a note saying:

Love you tons, gone to court, see you after school.

She did not return. As his mum’s legal team had advised that a custodial sentence was very unlikely, she had made no long term plans for the care of Rico and his sister.

Things moved very quickly – Rico and his sister were sent to live with their grandmother.

It was at this point that our Pact youth worker Kristina met Rico.

At the first meeting Rico was very quiet and would not talk about the situation, but he eventually began to open up. Rico was able to speak to Kristina about the anxieties he had knowing that his parents were in prison. He was deeply concerned about what might be happening to them – having only seen prisons on TV and in films, he was worried that they would be being hurt.

Kristina was able to reassure Rico by taking him through what a usual day might look like in prison for his mum and dad. She was able to use photos and resources that have been created specifically for children like Rico and it helped to put his mind at ease. She also reassured him that he needn’t feel alone, and that she worked with lots of children in similar situations.

Contact

Rico wanted to know whether he could talk to his parents or go to see them. Kristina liaised with the social workers, his grandmother and prison staff to arrange for a weekly call to the children from his mother. She was also able to liaise with our prison-based family engagement workers to arrange for Rico and his sister to attend family visits to see each of his parents in their separate prisons. 

By working together, they were able to offer pre and post visit support to ensure that Rico and his sister were able to cope with any feelings that came up about the visit.

Before the visit, Kristina discussed his anxieties with him. Every month before a visit, Rico and his sister would meet up with Kristina and could talk through any concerns they had, and she would work with them to put their minds at ease and ensure they were emotionally prepared.

After a few months of visits and positive contact with his parents, Rico was doing well.

Going into care

Unfortunately Rico’s world was turned upside again. After a difficult period his grandmother told social services that she could not have long term care of the children and was not coping as she was unwell and her flat was not big enough. Social services began to look for a foster home for the children.

A placement was found for Rico and his sister.

Throughout this huge transition, Kristina stayed closely connected with Rico. She was still meeting him on a regular basis and providing support. She was one of the few people in his life that he felt he could talk to. Rico had told most of his school friends and teachers that his foster carers were his aunt and uncle – which gave him very few safe spaces to talk to anyone honestly about what he was going through. 

After a few months in his foster home, Rico disclosed to Kristina that his foster carers had taken his phone, which he was extremely attached to as he used it for his weekly calls with his mother and to keep in touch with his grandmother. He also told Kristina that they would not take him to visits at the prisons to see his parents anymore. He was devastated, and his anxieties appeared to return. His behaviour at school deteriorated, and he was displaying difficult behaviour towards his foster carers. The placement was becoming strained and was at risk of breaking down.

When Kristina discussed the issue with the foster carers directly they explained that they did not feel that it was appropriate for the children to go to a prison and that maintaining contact with parents in prison was encouraging a negative kind of lifestyle. When asked if they had informed Rico’s social worker of this change, they said they had not.

Kristina discussed this with the social workers and explained that Rico was feeling powerless and frustrated, and that this decision was affecting his behaviour. She also talked about the importance of keeping the family contact, particularly with his mother who would be attempting to get custody of the children when she is released in the next 12-18 months.

Contact would be vitally important for the children’s stability and security, and had already proved to help Rico a great deal. It would also be key for them to keep a connection with their mother in order to make the transition smoother when she is released and if they return to the family home. 

During her time in prison, Rico’s mum had taken great steps towards rehabilitation and towards building a more positive future – she had been taking Pact’s relationship and parenting programmes and was able to understand the impact that her actions and imprisonment had had on her children. This was a something that the social workers greatly supported.

Finding a new foster home

Kristina’s close working with the social worker proved vital in ensuring the best outcomes for Rico. Having heard Rico’s feedback, the social worker decided to look for alternative foster care arrangements, and find carers who are willing to support and facilitate contact with the children and their mother.                                           

Kristina was invited to join the LAC (Looked After Child) meetings and provide input for the care plan for Rico and his sister.

Today, Rico and his sister are in a new placement and are pleased to be with foster carers who understand their situation, and support them in maintaining contact and a good relationship with their parents.

Kristina continues to work with Rico to support him through this transition, and remains his champion. She works hard to support him to share his experiences and feelings, and safeguard his mental health and wellbeing to prevent some of the potentially long term impacts this may have on his life.

Since the decision to move was made the school have reported that Rico’s behaviour has improved.

Rico told his social worker:

I like it when Kristina comes to see me, we play games and we talk about stuff too, it’s good that I have my space with her and that she helps tell the other adults how I feel, I hope she can keep coming to see me.

Kristina will continue to support Rico and attend the LAC meetings to give him a voice over the issues that affect his life.

Rico’s social worker told us:

I found your support with Rico to be extremely useful, particularly as you have specialist knowledge about this area of work, so it was helpful for Rico to have someone who understood what he was going though. You were very creative in your sessions with him and this passion really encouraged him to engage. Your attendance at meetings, emails and call updates was particularly helpful for me and the network around him as we was able to get direct feedback on your time with him, which allowed the network to coordinate a response on how to best help Rico. Your time with him was so valuable that he was able to open up to you about concerns in his foster placement that he was not even able to express to me.

Without your input and support in providing him a safe space away from home, I may have never been made aware by him.