Breaking The Chain Of Inter-Generational Offending And Imprisonment with James Ottley

Breaking The Chain Of Inter-Generational Offending And Imprisonment with James Ottley

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Huge numbers of kids are affected by imprisonment - and most schools will have at least one family where a mother or father is in the criminal justice system. But how do we reach children affected by this issue - and help them break the chain of inter-generational offending that is all too common?

James Ottley from Children Heard and Seen is an expert in supporting pupils and families affected by prison - and in today's episode, he explains how the issue affects children, how to form trusting relationships with them, and he gives us practical strategies for offering kids emotional support.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

This episode has been sponsored by our friends at Team Satchel, head to the episode description to find out more about their special discount on all of their behaviour management tools.

James Ottley  0:10  

When we first started, we contact lots of schools and then when we tried set up in new areas, we always contact the primary schools in that area. And you'd be really surprised with the amount of times we get told sorry, we don't have children like that in our school. I think just having an open attitude to different families. You know, there is no such thing as a typical prisoners family. You know, they come from all walks of life all around the country, all classes, all ethnicities, so it's creating that safe, open space where families feel like they can go and say, Look, this has happened. What do we do?

Simon Currigan  0:42  

Hi there and welcome to Episode 28 of school behaviour secrets. If this podcast were a fruit, it would be a nice juicy fig easy to ingest and then really gets the job done. I'm joined by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:36  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:37  

Emma. Before we get to this week's interview, I'd like to ask you a question for a change. Tell me about a role model you had when you were younger. And how did they influence you.

Emma Shackleton  1:47  

One person who really stands out for me is my English teacher from secondary school. I've got a really clear picture of her in my head. She was just super cool, had great presence in the classroom. she rode a motorbike. She was really energetic and engaging. And she had this incredible knack of connecting and communicating with people. And I guess she's probably one of the reasons that I pursued a teaching career. But why are you asking? What's the link this week?

Simon Currigan  2:16  

Well, this week we're talking to James Oxley from children's seen and heard, which is an organisation that supports kids who have a family member in prison. And when you look at the data, it shows us that crime runs in families were strongly influenced by those around us and the expectations they have for us. And a lot of the work James does is trying to break those intergenerational links. In today's episode, he talks about how to raise the aspiration of kids as well as how we can support them when they're going through emotional difficulties that we can learn a lot from.

Emma Shackleton  2:51  

Okay, so before we press play on that interview, I've got a quick request. If you find today's episode useful, please leave us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. This helps other teachers and school leaders finders helping them get the answers they need about emotions and behaviour in their school. It literally takes 30 seconds. Thank you.

Simon Currigan  3:13  

Now here's my interview with James ottilie. I'd like to welcome our guest to the show today. His name is James otterly. And he's from the organisation children heard and seen children heard and seen is a charity that supports children and families impacted by parental imprisonment. James has worked with a charity for two years. And he also has experience of working for probation, youth offending early intervention and children's services. Today we're going to talk about the impact of prison on our students lives, their emotions, their behaviour, the challenges this brings to their schooling and home lives. James, welcome to the show. Hi, James, can you tell us about the aims of children heard and seen? What are you trying to achieve?

James Ottley  3:51  

So we were set up in 2014. And we come from a youth offending background. And at the time, the common denominator for children coming into the criminal justice system. It wasn't where they were from. It wasn't their ethnicity, their gender, the common denominator was that they had a parent in prison. So we were looking to see you know, what organisations are out there to support children, the parent in prison, and there was very little and very little community based support. So the aims of children heard and seen are to break the intergenerational offending that happens in families, but also to reduce the shame and the stigma and the isolation that comes with having a parent in prison. So yeah, those are our main names. How big is the problem? It's estimated that there are 312,000 children in the UK with parent in prison, but that's just an estimate. So it's not clear number, there isn't a database of who these children are, where they live and whether they need support. So it's a hidden problem, but it's a real large scale problem and 65% of boys with a parent in prison will go on to offend. So if you look at that number, and that percentage is quite scary. Really.

Simon Currigan  4:58  

How does children heard and seen work with kids and families to try and reduce that intergenerational offending, what kind of things do you do,

James Ottley  5:04  

we really believe that it's relationships that create change. So we're not an organisation that, you know, does six sessions, and then you're out, we work with a family for as long as they need us. So we've got one family who we've worked with, they were our first family, and we're still supporting them six years down the line. And then in that time, there's been lots of different situations child has grown up gone secondary school, gone through secondary school. So they've needed different levels of support, we do one to one support for children, so given them a safe space, so that they can talk about their parent, and therefore it's and feelings, we do groups so that children can meet other children in a similar situation. So again, to reduce that isolation, but also our groups are quite activity focused so that children can kind of achieve and hopefully raise their aspirations. We do support for parents and carers. There's lots of grandparents that are looking after their children. So we support the parents and the carers in how they can support their children, and also putting them together with other parents and other grandparents. And there's a bit of peer support, we do mentoring. So we find volunteer mentors for children, a mentor will sign up with us for at least six months, often a year, and they will go and see the child every week, take them out and spend some time with them. So it's just that person that's outside their family that they can, you know, open up and talk to, or they can just forget about, you know, family life and enjoy themselves and you know, have a nice time and build a trusting relationship with an adult who comes every week shows an interest in them doesn't let them down. So mentoring is a big part of what we do. And then we've got a range of interventions, what we try to do is tailor our support to the family because everybody's situation is different. Some people visit their parent in prison, some people don't have contact, some parents are together, some aren't. Sometimes children or parents have been the victims of the parents offending. So we've got a range of support that we can offer. And then it's about what's going to be helpful for the family. So for some families, it's just a simple helping them to explain to the children about what's happened and how they can explain that age appropriately. For some they get involved in absolutely everything that we do. And you know, come to every session, every group every activity, so yeah, it's about what's going to work best for the individual family and children. You said at the

Simon Currigan  7:15  

start, there's a social stigma around having a family member in prison. What do you do to break down those barriers? Are there any barriers to start with? Or are their families desperate for help, but not sure where to go? How do you approach that? If they don't want people to know? How do you reach them,

James Ottley  7:29  

that's the hardest thing for us. And the fact that there isn't a database, there isn't a record of who these families are, there's no recording of it. So our biggest hurdle is finding families in the first place. When we first set up, we started in Oxford, and we contacted every primary school and told them about our organisation or charity, what we do asked if they had any children, parent in prison, but even then primary schools don't necessarily know. And we've had children that have gone all the way through primary school, with a parent in prison and nobody knowing. So finding the families in the first place is really difficult. Now that we're six years down the line, we get a lot of families that reach out to us. So you know, there'll be searching on Google, they'll be looking on Twitter, and they find us so now our biggest referrer is families self referral, which is great, but you know, it's taken us six years to build that up. Currently, overall, we've worked with over 500 children were currently supporting just under 200. But if there's an estimated 312,000 in the country, then there's, you know, there's still a long way to go. So the fact that these families are invisible, makes it really difficult for them to be able to access support

Simon Currigan  8:34  

that's going to make them feel quite isolated at a really difficult time. And a research shows that one of the protective factors of going through a critical time of crisis time is your social network and being able to get support from friends and your family. What's the emotional impact on a child when their parent goes into prison to start with?

James Ottley  8:51  

It's a loss. It's like a bereavement, that you don't get the sympathy that you would if your parent passed away, or if somebody passed away, so as well as dealing with that loss. There's a real fear for children about what's going to happen to their parent in prison, most children's idea of prison they've got from films or TV programmes, which obviously make it a lot scarier than it actually is. And particularly last year with the Coronavirus and reports of Coronavirus, getting into prisons, you know, we had real anxiety from our children that their parent was going to die. There's all of that. And then you've got this shame and stigma that comes with it as well. And all of a sudden, you're not being invited to birthday parties anymore. You hear parents on playground saying, Oh no, you can't play with that little boy. He's from a bad family, for parents, their friends, you know, stop calling them or stop inviting them to gatherings and things like that. So it's a real loss of everything, you know, not only losing the parent, sometimes that goes along with losing access to money to vehicles to you know opportunities, and then you're losing your support network and your friends as well. There's so much loss and then children end up blaming themselves for something They haven't done,

Simon Currigan  10:00  

he made an interesting point earlier. And on this podcast, we often focus on the kids. But when a partner for instance, goes into prison, the remaining partner or grandparent is going to go through all sorts of emotional challenges of their own, when you start working with those families, how able is the remaining family to support their child with their needs at that time, because they're going through so much themselves.

James Ottley  10:22  

And that's why we concentrate our support on the family rather than just on the children because we need to support the parents so that they are able to support their children. For instance, a lot of our families, the person has been sent to prison, the dad has been sent to prison over historical allegations. So it will be something that comes as a complete surprise and shock to the partner. We have lots of partners who then question whether they should still be in a relationship or whether they should break the relationship, whether the children should be allowed to have contact, whether they should be able to visit a prison, whether that's, you know, the right thing to do, it can be really difficult. I mean, we had one family, one parent, she was referred by a school. And when we first went and met the mom, she was so scared, really, she wouldn't let us in the house, we eventually got into the house, and we wanted to bring her to our group so that she could meet some other parents, she was really resistant to that we eventually got her to come to the group, she didn't take her coat off, she didn't say anything, she was in tears, she was anxious. The good thing about the way that we work is that we have that time to build that relationship and keep on going each way and building up the parents resilience. But yeah, it can be really difficult, particularly at the start of just a whole new world and not knowing which way to go, or which way to turn or where you can get support from

Simon Currigan  11:42  

how do the children engage when you start working with them? Are they defensive? Are they relieved, something in between?

James Ottley  11:49  

It depends on what their experience of professionals have been lots of our families, particularly if it's been sexual offences, social care will swoop in, they'll do assessments, they'll you know, kind of break through families lives and then disappear. So that can be sometimes a barrier for us in you know, are you just going to be like that are you just going to come in, you know, turn our lives upside down, and then go. So a lot of time, it's building up that trust with children, that we're not going anywhere, that we are still going to be there and that we're there to support them. So again, because we're not relying on doing six sessions and getting all of our work done in a short space of time, we can build up those relationships, I'll often have three or four, maybe five sessions with a child before I even start talking about that parent, and just getting to know them and then getting to know me and getting to know the charity and being able to ask questions about us and about children with a parent in prison in general, before we start talking about, you know, their parent and their experience, some children just want to tell you straight away and they want to tell you how to prevent because it's something that they've you know, they finally got somebody that they can talk to and they know it's safe. Obviously every child is different. But yeah, the fact that we can build those relationships and have that time really helps.

Simon Currigan  13:06  

I just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our inner circle programme. The inner circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an inner circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of inner circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers and you've been looking forward today with inner circle, visit and click on the inner circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. When you start to break down those walls and that child starts to be more honest about what's happening in their lives. What kind of practical challenges do they tell you about thinking particularly around school?

James Ottley  14:30  

Yeah, so a lot is about who they should tell whether they should tell friends how they should say it. Lots of our parents have been in the local media or on national media. So children have seen it. they've read it in a paper they come the next day. Oh, I heard your dad's in prison. What happened? And then you know, the child freezes. I don't know what to say. So we try and to equip them with an easy answer that they can say which keeps them safe and doesn't give away too many details. We have lots of children wondering about you know Can they still love their parent, their parent has done something wrong, but they still love them. That's particularly felt by children where the mom has been the victim. So you know, I love my dad, but he's hurt my mom. And I can't talk to mom about dad because I don't want to upset her. And then about how to stay in contact as well. Contacts is a real difficult one. And because parents are just sent to prison, there's no fault about, you know, their family and visiting and things like that. So we've got families, one end of the country and their parent is at the other end of the country, we've got parents who are in foreign prisons. So it's about how you maintain that relationship, when you're not going to be able to visit or you're not going to be able to see them.

Simon Currigan  15:40  

Can you talk us through a story about a child or a family that you were working with, and the impact of your support on the other side of those difficulties.

James Ottley  15:48  

The woman that I mentioned earlier, when she first started come in, she wouldn't take her coat off, she wouldn't leave the house, she wouldn't talk, she would cry, whenever she tried to talk, the change in her if you could see her now is unbelievable. We had a student on placement with us who did some work with the man because the mum wanted to get out into work, she had never worked. So we helped her to do a CV, we took her shopping so that she could buy something for an interview, we took her through interview techniques, she managed to get her first job, which was an incredible achievement. Unfortunately, due to childcare issue, she wasn't able to maintain it, but she is now gone on. And she's doing the health and social care course at Ruskin college, and she's so strong now she's so confident she's dealing with the children, she's achieving in her life. She's just a different woman, you know, she was huddled up and now she's like, you know, head high walk in strong. So the change in her has been amazing. The children have come to our groups, they love the group, they'd be sitting on the bus saying, oh, we're going to a group because our dad is in prison. You know, they weren't, you know, shy about it, they absolutely love come in, they've grown, we've been supporting them for nearly three years now. So they've grown up, they've helped other children to, you know, feel a part of the group. So yeah, the change in that family has been fantastic. And that was for the primary school referral, it kind of shows how important those links are, because the school already had a good relationship with the parent, but they needed that extra support. And then we were able to offer that and yeah, the change has been magnificent.

Simon Currigan  17:19  

Are there any telltale signs to look for so imagine we've got a pupil in our class who's been affected by this issue, perhaps it's a couple of months down the line. So it's not as fresh, people aren't talking about it as much Is there anything we should watch out for to indicate that this pupil might be struggling with what's going on in their home life underneath,

James Ottley  17:35  

I think a lot of children are quite angry, and they don't know what to do with that anger, you know, they might be angry at their parent for being sent to prison, they might be angry at the other parent for not stopping that parent from doing what they did to go to prison. So I think there's a real mixed emotions of anger, of sadness, of anxiety and fear that something might happen. And then you know, that behaviour often comes out in the wrong way and ends up with children getting into trouble at school at home. So a lot of what we do is helping children in how to recognise those feelings and how to deal with those difficult feelings. But yeah, I would say that that's something to kind of look out for, you know, a change in behaviour, a child who was previously chatty, who's gone quiet child who was reasonably easy go in who's now become an aggressive or frustrated, I think that's a big change for lots of like primary schools, particularly when we get referrals, it's that there's been a change in behaviour in class. Unfortunately, lots of our children feel that because their parent has gone to prison, that that's what's going to happen to them. You know, we work with families, where every male in the family has been in prison, you know, an eight year old boy thinking, that's my life given up, you know, what's the point, which is really sad for an eight year old or 10 year old to be thinking that way? So yeah, change in behaviour, you know, a loss of interest in school, it's really helpful for for schools to ask questions to ask about dads, because you know, it's typically mums that do the picking up the dropping off, go to parents, evenings, things like that. And I think the more questions you can ask, Where is dad does he see the children and things like that, that will make it easier for parents to say, this is happening? When we first started, we contact lots of schools. And then when we tried set up in new areas, we always contact the primary schools in that area. And you'd be really surprised with the amount of times we get told sorry, we don't have children like that in our school. I think just having an open attitude to different families. You know, there is no such thing as a typical prisoners family, you know, they come from all walks of life all around the country, all classes, all ethnicities. So it's creating that safe, open space where families feel like they can go and say, Look, this has happened, what do we do a real fear for a lot of our families if they tell somebody that social care is going to get involved and the children are going to get taken into care. So it's always trying to reduce those fears in families and have that open attitude. So that They can just come and say, Look, this has happened and we need help. You spoke earlier about children, eight, 910 years old, their parent goes to prison and they think this is it. This is the template, this is my future. How do you work with those children? What

Simon Currigan  20:12  

kind of strategies do you use to help change that view,

James Ottley  20:15  

trying to raise their aspirations? You know, we're based in Oxford and Oxford is seen as very well to do places, the university, there's old institutions, and then we've got children who live in states in Oxford, who feel that that is a different walk of life, that's not for them. So we try as much as we can to give children those opportunities. So we've done, you know, joint projects with the Bodleian Library with modern art, Oxford, we visited the university so that children can think actually, you know, maybe I can be part of this, maybe I can go to university one day, maybe I can work in the body, and maybe I can be an artist. So trying to raise those aspirations. We do a group on a Monday night, virtually at the moment is called Chase. And it's for primary aged children. It's kind of based on the, you know, the scouts and guides model of you do an activity and you earn a badge. And I think that you can never underestimate how much badges and certificates and you know, Weldon's have an impact on children. We were watching a documentary about women in prison, and there was a young woman who was in prison, it was six times she'd been in prison, she had, you know, learning difficulties, and she was on her phone to her mum, because she'd been made an enhanced prisoner and the way that she was saying it, it was like the greatest achievement of her life. You know, I've been to the prison six times mom, and I've never got enhanced and I'm enhance now. So we never underestimate the impact that certificates and you know, Weldon's and achievements have on our children. And then we also try as much as we can to find adults who have become successful, who had a parent in prison when they were a child. So we've got really good links with the Thames Valley police and as a police officer, who we work with closely who his dad was in prison when he was younger. So he can come and talk to the children and say, I know you know what you're going through I was you 20 years ago, and I chose a different path. And I'm here now, there aren't that many public figures or sort of famous people that you can point to to say, you know, look, that was somebody who had a parent in prison. I'm sure there are loads out there, but they don't, they don't want to talk about it, which I guess shows the shame and stigma goes on. It's not just when you're a child, it goes on through your adult life as well. So the more public figures, celebrities, you know, people that children look up to that we can say, look, this has happened to them, and they've come out the other side that really helps children.

Team Satchel  22:30  

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Simon Currigan  23:02  

In my experience compared to other needs, there is hardly any training available to support teachers to support the kids in their class going through this issue of imprisonment. Compared to like autism or ADHD, there's hardly anything to prepare teachers, in my experience. If you're a teacher, and in your classroom, you've got a student who you know is going through this issue. He wants to support them, but you're worried about getting it wrong. What would be your advice? What's the first step you can take? What's something practical, they can start doing to get off on the right foot?

James Ottley  23:31  

Firstly, we're always open to teachers, schools, organisations getting in touch with us. And you know, asking these questions, we've got a family at the moment who they were engaging with us their engagement has dropped off school are worried. So we're supporting the school so that they can support the child, giving them a safe space where they know that they can go and talk to somebody is really key, you know, a key person in school because of the shame and stigma is not something that children wants to be talking about with everybody. So if there's one key adult, whether it's their teacher, whether it's a learning mentor, whether it's the same code that they know they can go to and talk to whenever they need, lots of our schools have been really good at making it easy for children to leave lessons without a big fast if they are becoming overwhelmed, you know, just having like a little green card or something that they just flip over on the table. And then they can just leave the class if they need to just given them that safe space where they can talk and they know that what they're going to say isn't going to get them in trouble or isn't going to lead to telling their mom or the fear of social care getting involved. And I think schools have been so good in recognising and supporting young carers and I see a real correlation between young parents and children, parent prison, lots of the children that we work with our young carers, you know, in the classes, young carers schools have done so well identifying that and making that a safe space. And I think it's something that could be done, you know, similar with children with parent in prison.

Simon Currigan  24:55  

How can schools find out more about children heard and seen, get access to those kinds of resources? In support,

James Ottley  25:00  

we've got our website, we've got YouTube channel, we've got Twitter, Facebook, but just pick up the phone and give us a call, we've got one phone number, it's always active will always speak to parents will always speak to teachers and organisations, we've come into schools before to do talks, we've spoke to teachers about the issue. But also when there's been a child in a particular school, we've come and talked to the children about what we do, and obviously not pointing out the child, but just to raise their empathy of, you know, one of your classmates could be going through this, and how would you feel if it was used, we're always happy to come out and do that. But yeah, pick up the phone and give us a call. And we've got a range of resources that we can give that we can talk you through.

Simon Currigan  25:43  

And we'll put a direct link to your website and your phone number in the show description. Brilliant, right? Finally, we asked this of all our guests, who's the key figure that's influenced you? Or what's the key book that you've read that's had the biggest impact on the way you work with kids,

James Ottley  25:58  

my biggest inspiration is the children that we work with, because they're amazing children, funny, clever, talented, exciting, interested, and, you know, just working with them. And feeding off that energy, you know, really inspires me to continue to get better and to work harder. And to reach more children. I'm particularly interested in kind of solution based therapy and solution based ways of thinking, I don't need to know what your problem is, I don't need to know who's to blame for it. What I need to know is what we're going to do, who's going to sort it out? And how are we going to achieve that a lot of what I do is focusing on the future, rather than looking back at the past, and helping children to reach those goals and those achievements that they want. Like I said earlier, when you're eight 910, you should be dreaming of being a footballer or a fireman or whatever, it is not thinking that I'm going to go to prison. So yeah, the children that we work with absolutely inspire me. And just that solution based focus of this is what we need to do to make things better.

Simon Currigan  26:57  

James, I think that's a very positive note to end the interview on. Thank you for being on the podcast.

James Ottley  27:02  

Thank you very much.

Emma Shackleton  27:03  

What I really liked about that interview is that you can hear how passionate James is about this subject. He really cares about the kids and their families, and wants children seen and heard to make a real difference to their lives.

Simon Currigan  27:17  

This is a really important topic. So their web address, again, is children heard and And their phone number, if you're in the UK, is Oh 7557339 to five, eight, that's Oh 7557339 to five, eight, and I put a copy of that URL, and their telephone number in the show description. And if you have a friend or colleague who would find this interview useful, please share this episode with them. You can do that by opening your podcast app and tapping the share button next to this episode, you'll be able to share a direct link by email, text message or whatever you use to communicate.

Emma Shackleton  27:54  

And that was the last episode of school behaviour secrets this side of the summer. We're going to take a break for the next few weeks, but we'll be back at the start of term in September with loads more behaviour tips, tricks and strategies for you.

Simon Currigan  28:08  

If you think you might forget to listen again in September now is the perfect time to subscribe. All you have to do is open your podcast app, extend your index finger poke the subscribe button. It won't mind honestly it enjoys tactile stimulation. And you might even give it a chuckle then your podcast that will automatically download the latest episodes when they drop after the summer holidays so you won't miss a thing. In the apple podcast app. the subscribe button has now been renamed to follow

Emma Shackleton  28:35  

we'd like to wish all of our listeners a happy summer and hope you get a well earned chance to relax and recharge.

Simon Currigan  28:42  

So until September. Have a great break and we'll see you on the other side. Bye for now.

Emma Shackleton  28:47  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)