A pilot scheme being run by Pact to provide more support to mothers in prison is already yielding significant benefits, according to an interim evaluation report published this week by the University of Cardiff. 

The pilot, called ‘Together a Chance’ has placed social workers in two women’s prisons - HMPs Send and Eastwood Park – whose role is to improve outcomes for mothers in custody and their children. The scheme aims to empower women to maintain links and engage with their children, whilst ensuring that child welfare remains paramount.  

Unlike local authority social workers, Pact social workers are specialist prison-based staff, and their work begins with the women as their primary caseload. However, their work complements that of their local authority counterparts in safeguarding the best interests of the child, while also providing vital support for mothers, many of whom have been victims of violence and domestic abuse. 

The findings, which were unveiled at an event this week in the House of Lords, include:  

  • The role of the Pact social workers is invaluable to both mothers and community practitioners.  
  • Pact social workers are demonstrating that they can hold a ‘child-focused-plus’ approach, working for the benefit of the child and the mother. They have become part of, and in some cases brought together, the team around the child. 
  • The range and extent of the social workers’ work is impressive, and the role is becoming embedded within the two pilot prisons. 
  • This pilot scheme is beginning to demonstrate that mothers can, with the right support, continue to play a role in their children’s lives and be involved in decisions relating to their welfare, where it is in the best interests of the children. 

Pact is piloting the project following a recommendation made by Lord Farmer in his 2019 report that every women’s prison should have an on-site social worker as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Maintaining family contact is a key factor in reducing reoffending – prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39 per cent less likely to reoffend.  

Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of Pact, said: “This report shows the major benefits of having dedicated social workers in women’s prisons. Keeping female prisoners in touch with their children can benefit the women, the children, and community practitioners, as well as reducing the likelihood that they will reoffend when they are released. 

“It’s particularly encouraging to see how our social workers have been able to balance safeguarding the wellbeing of children - always the paramount concern - and supporting the mothers.  

“With the impact of the Covid pandemic largely behind us, now is the time for the Government to commit to delivering Lord Famer’s recommendation and to ensure that social workers are available across the female estate. Rather than spending money on 500 new cells for women, we believe the Government should concentrate its efforts on reducing the number of women we send to prison in the first place.”  

The project has been funded by the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust and will continue to be evaluated, with a second interim report due in May 2023.