How To Support Pupils Affected By Imprisonment (with Sara Turner from Ormiston Families)

How To Support Pupils Affected By Imprisonment (with Sara Turner from Ormiston Families)

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When a child has a family member go into prison, the impact on their emotions (and their behaviour) can be huge. Yet there's very little training for schools on how to support those pupils.

In this episode, we interview Sara Turner from Ormiston Families, who has practical experience of supporting young people affected by imprisonment. She explains the struggles those children go through - and strategies that help students manage their emotions in school.

Ormiston Families website

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Show notes / transcription

Sara Turner  0:00  

Children I've been to see, little ones, and I've said, Oh, you know why I'm here? and they don't. I explain "I know your daddy's in prison" and their face changes completely the recognition that Oh, how did you know and just changes everything because I think they really feel that they cannot talk about it.

Simon Currigan  0:15  

Welcome to Episode 20 of school behaviour secrets as ever. We're recording from Behaviour Towers, and between you and me. Next door's dog goes crazy, every time we take the bins out, it's infuriating. I'm joined by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:07  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:09  

Emma, I want to ask you a question. Has anyone ever asked you to keep a secret?

Emma Shackleton  1:14  

Ah, yes, they have. And this actually happened to me quite recently, when a really good friend told me a really big secret. And the secret was that she was pregnant. This was lovely news. And she asked me not to tell anybody else which of course I respected. But then a few days later, a mutual friend of ours started speculating that she thought the first friend might be pregnant. And what did I think I didn't want to betray my friends trust. But I felt like I was caught in the middle. It made me feel really uncomfortable because I didn't want to let anyone down.

Simon Currigan  1:52  

In today's episode, we interview Sarah Turner from Ormiston Families, and she specialises in supporting kids who are affected by imprisonment. So it might be a mother or father that's been sentenced. And then they're left with either the other partner or maybe a grandparent. And often they are told not to let their friends or teachers know about what's happening in the family.

Emma Shackleton  2:12  

That sounds like it would have a really massive impact on the child. Just imagine having a parent taken away through no fault of your own, and then visiting them in an institution.

Simon Currigan  2:23  

Yeah, and they're not being able to talk to the people around you about what's going on in your life. So Sarah is going to talk today about what that impact is on the child and the family and give us some practical ways of supporting those kids in the classroom.

Emma Shackleton  2:36  

I know that this issue is massive, it actually affects more kids than autism, but it gets nothing like the publicity but before we get into the interview, I want to ask you a very small favour. If you enjoy the show today or learn something new. Please spend 30 seconds giving us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. Every review tells Apple to recommend the podcast to other listeners so that they can find the show and start getting the help that they need to support the children in their classrooms. And now on to Simon's interview with Sara Turner.

Simon Currigan  3:10  

Okay, today I'd like to welcome Sara Turner to the show, Sara works with Ormiston Families who, amongst other things support families affected by offending and prison. They provide tailored programmes to support and help kids with their anxieties and emotional well being creating a safe space for kids to talk, play and express their thoughts and emotions. Sara is a senior Practitioner with Ormiston families. So she's got practical experience of supporting young people affected by imprisonment. And the focus of her work is using games and activities that help children build the tools to cope with the stresses they find themselves under. Sara, welcome to the show.

Sara Turner  3:47  

Thank you very much.

Simon Currigan  3:49  

It's lovely to have you here. I'd like to start by asking why do you think the issue of imprisonment goes under the radar? Because in terms of prevalence, how many families are affected? imprisonment affects as many kids as autism, but it seems to get very little publicity or awareness, especially within the education sector. So why do you think that might be?

Sara Turner  4:10  

I think the stigma is huge. And I think a lot of families think that they're going to cope on their own and really don't want the stigma of that brandished around them for the children especially. Children really feel they've got no one to speak to about it. I think that's the big issue. So I think it does become like a big kind of secret if you like because it the stigma is so huge. It's a massive issue for them

Simon Currigan  4:35  

Because they don't want their own personal situations being promoted.

Sara Turner  4:38  

I don't know about promoted I think it's the issue is finding a safe place that they can express and talk about it so I think it's sticking your toe in the water of where that is and I think that's where Ormiston's good, and other organisations because they are just about imprisonment. I mean there's children I've been to see little ones and I've said "Oh you know why I'm here?" and and they don't. I explain that I know your daddy's in prison. And their face changes completely, the recognition that Oh, how did you know and just changes everything, because I think they really feel that they cannot talk about it. So I think we underestimate how much of a stigma it really is for the families for the people left behind to be able to say, you know, my husband's away is on holiday or something like that. And the children wanting to go and see dad wondering where he is all of that stuff. When you start unravelling it, there's quite a lot of strands in there.

Simon Currigan  5:27  

So I guess what's interesting is all the research kind of shows that when people find themselves in a difficult situation, one thing that differentiates people that cope well in that situation from those who really struggle with social connection, using their social networks for support, and that's being denied to them really, isn't it? So because they're not wanting to share the information with their friends and their colleagues. They're kind of cutting themselves off from the social connections that would help them cope with it more effectively and more successfully.

Sara Turner  5:55  

Yes, I think you're right. And I think committed my work is supporting the children almost looking to do a more holistic service and to support the families and I do offer telephone support. But I think you're right, I think it's who can you confide in who's got your back, you know, who isn't going to judge you? And I think you're right, it's a double edged sword, isn't it? Who can you trust? And like I say, I think my experience of going into the schools, it's taken me a while for the penny to drop, but I really realised that I really am the only people that these children talk to about it. Yeah, I think that and with the adults, you know, and then they sometimes don't want to talk about it because child doesn't want upset Mummy, you know, so it is very difficult.

Simon Currigan  6:35  

So in your experience, when a family member enters the prison system, what's the biggest emotional impact on the child?

Sara Turner  6:41  

it would be a separation anxiety, it's huge. And I think the absolute uncertainty of what's going on in there the scenario building of what prison is like. We showed them a video we've got a DVD to let them know what prison is like, which is really helpful because a lot of them think it's like, you know, like 'Orange is the New Black' or some hollywood movie, and they've got a scenario in their head that dad's emaciated being beaten up, and, you know, all this type of stuff. So when we show the DVD and see, you know, what the cell looks like, what it's like when he arrives, the different things that he can do there. For some children is very reassuring. Some it's quite mind blowing, because they've got this other scenario, the separation anxiety. And the scenario building are the two main big things at the beginning for the children.

Simon Currigan  7:27  

How relieved, are they, when they see that video? How does it change the way they perceive what's happening to their parent?

Sara Turner  7:32  

It does. I've had one child who...  she kept pausing it while we were playing it. And she's the one that said, "well, Sarah, it certainly isn't Orange is the New Black is it?" and I said, "No it isnt!". this is a six minute DVD and it took us an hour to get through it because she kept pausing it she couldn't believe there was a pool table on the wing. She's going  "Well, I'm not having that, that's not true". And I said it is I said, I've seen it. I've been on the wing. And I've seen it. We've talked about that, we marked out how big the cell would be, I think being able to make it a visual, experiential kind of thing. In the room that we were working, we were like, okay, let's get this up. Let's see where dad would have his things on the wall there, all this stuff. So actually, it makes it come a bit more alive for them to empathise with the situation and make it a little bit more realistic for them. Rather than it being this terrible thing in their head. When they're left alone with their thoughts. It becomes a demon, if you like, and bigger and more horrible for them. Yeah, I think it does help to enable them to control the anxiety for them, because the anxiety is such a huge factor for them.

Simon Currigan  8:35  

And I guess that makes sense. Because when you work with kids, anything new that you've never experienced before they can get quite anxious about it. So when you sort of guide them through it and handhold them through and say this is what it's gonna look like. It's that same kind of situation? 

Sara Turner  8:48  


Simon Currigan  8:48  

So obviously,  all kids are individuals, but they're going through a lot of stress, a lot of emotional pressure. 

Sara Turner  8:54  


Simon Currigan  8:54  

What kinds of behaviours do children start to engage in at school following an imprisonment?

Sara Turner  9:00  

They can become very withdrawn, I would say and disengaged, but I think also that can be quite negative, that can be quite angry outbursts, because of course, there's a whole this set of emotions they've, you know, not experienced before, and they're not really known how to make sense of them. So I would say they would be the main three things negative angry outbursts, maybe being withdrawn and not engaging in school. I think they're the main ones.

Simon Currigan  9:22  

Do you see any differences between boys and girls?

Sara Turner  9:24  

Actually, I'm thinking about a girl I was working with. I was going to say no, but actually, one of the girls I work with is so angry, really angry and wanting to go off and fight everybody. And one of her goals was I want to have boxing lessons and everything so really very angry. And I'm very grateful she was able to express it and talk about it. I would say the emotions are the same with how people want to express them is down to the individual. 

Simon Currigan  9:51  

Sometimes kids can be quite subtle. So if you're a class teacher, then you're listening to this.Are there any behaviours that we might miss to look out for a child struggling to cope with something quietly?

Sara Turner  10:01  

I think you have to look out for the disengagement really, and the withdrawn going off into their own world. I mean, I know that can be a whole heap of things. But I know as teachers, you'd all look out for that anyway. I know that, what I'm saying is, I think it's so incredibly difficult to talk about that. For me, I've got a little boy I'm working with. And he was very distressed the other day, because the children come in from school on the weekend, and Hey, hey, what you've been doing with your dad, what you've been doing, and they're talking about things they're doing with his dad. And he finally said, Sarah, I have to make up a big fib thing. And he was so upset about it, I thought it was a great coping mechanism, because of course, it unravels a whole load of other things for him. And I think that's the thing. You could have the withdrawn, as teachers, you may see withdrawn stuff, but you may see this kind of child who wants to please and is making up stories and being a bit larger than life to cover up the pain aswell.

Simon Currigan  10:53  

 In your experience working one to one with pupils, what are the biggest struggles mean, we've started talking about having to tell lies to their friends, and that's going to be hard over time, especially as a child, what are the struggles do they share? What do they find hardest to cope with?

Sara Turner  11:06  

It's the anxiety. That's the biggest one for me that I see the younger ones, I give them a worry monster, so they can can talk to me or mum or a teacher, whoever we decide is different points of contact. And I try and give them some strategies for coping. A girl I was working with, it was nighttime, in bed with her thoughts, that was a real struggle for her. And I wouldn't say she'd be unique in that. So I think it's the anxiety being alone in the bed worrying, and us giving them some strategies to be able to manage that I think that's probably the best gift we can give them really, but they're not going to go out of the bed, wake up mum all the time. Some of them do go and sleep with Mum, because the separation, they get quite insecure and lose mum as well. There's often a clingyness to the remaining parent, I've had that as an issue with quite a few families where they said, you know, she won't let me out of the room. Just worrying that I'm going to leave too I don't think underestimate how huge that anxiety and how it branches off into these different areas in their life. How big that is for them, I'd say that's the biggest thing I observe. 

Simon Currigan  12:08  

And does that tend to go on for the entire period that the other person's in prison? Or is that something that they learn to cope with? over time? What's the outcome for those kind of kids? I know he's speaking in broad brush. It's every child's an individual.

Sara Turner  12:20  

Yeah, I think it's ongoing, because I've seen some children improve with coping strategies, the time I've been working with them, but I'm not sure how much it goes away, because I haven't done enough work around it or worked with the children long enough to see, because I do short term intervention. So I'm not sure about that. But I would say that giving them some strategies to cope and reminding them of that when you're in a bit of a bit of a pickle yourself as much as everybody says, you take a deep breath, it all goes out the window, because you're in a bit of a panic. So I think there's that reinforcement, making sure that your mum's on board, teachers, the pastoral services, whatever, they just go, right Remember, you know, deep breathing, they're counting on your hand, whatever the strategy is just to keep reinforcing it. So it becomes a thing that they can do. When they're on their own. It's just two repetitions. And so it becomes part of their DNA, ifyou like.

Simon Currigan  13:07  

 It sounds like you provide an outlet, an opportunity to talk that's kind of the only pressure valve that they've got available to them because of their family situation. And they don't want other people to know How valuable is that to them?

Sara Turner  13:20  

It's massive. I think the thing is, I didn't realise quite how much it was important to them. Until I've been working for the organisation for about eight months or so I realised and it takes a while because even though we're doing a short term intervention, the reality is building a relationship with somebody stick a toe in the water at the beginning, you don't always let everything out at the beginning. You know, you want to build up some trust that you can trust this person who am I Sarah coming in you okay? It's the lady that goes about prison, you may have experienced dad going in and out quite a few times. So "what she got to say that I'm going to be interested in" you know, there might be other children, it's the first time it's happened to look deeply in shock and deeply traumatised by it. And it all spills out because they can't keep a lid on it. Some young people, I don't have to do any activities, anything with as soon as I get in the door, it's chatter, chatter, chatter, talk, talk,talk and the younger ones... Often it's an activity, you know, having something that we're doing and then the talking comes while you're making something or doing an activity with them. Soyeah.

Simon Currigan  14:19  

 What kind of activities do you use?

Sara Turner  14:21  

We use loads. All the workers have got their own way of working but I think a common theme is we've got work packs, things like sheets around emotion. So for the younger ones that will be like, you know, sheets with emotions and getting them to identify which ones they are. I do crafts and stuff like that. I introduce the worry monster to them. So they've got somewhere where they can place their worries when they're on their own. I think one of my colleagues, this I love this one. She's uses in the early stages, coloured pipe cleaners to identify different feelings and how the child would show how they feel so they can screw them up and do different things with the colours. I think that's lovely. I've got puppets, I get them to do some, some drama sometimes, role plays, storytelling, I'm pretty much needs led and by the child. Sometimes had children say can we do this Sarah so it is led by the child, but guided by me.

Simon Currigan  15:11  

What's the impact of that work over time on the child kind of emotionally and how they're able to engage in school?

Sara Turner  15:16  

I'd like to say that it offers them some strength and stability, because they've got this extra layer in their life, their dad or mom, whoever is in prison, and I think us coming in helps with that layer. So I think it's that bit of like, they already feel like there may be a bit different, you know, so I think us reinforcing actually, that were there that there's somebody there is a huge impact for them. So I think it's positive impact for them,

Simon Currigan  15:42  

And kind of emotionally that at times will be quite draining work for you. How do you manage that? How do you deal with that?

Sara Turner  15:48  

What me personally?

Simon Currigan  15:49  


Sara Turner  15:49  

Well, I talk to my colleagues. We kind of, are very good at supporting each other. Because obviously, we all do the same work. So we support each other. Well, I love music and stuff like that. So I play piano, I'm a writer, I do things. I've always got a plethora of things that I can do to decompress and let it go. I've got a good support network. And I'm not frightened to use it either.

Simon Currigan  16:11  

That's really important, isn't it? 

Sara Turner  16:12  


Simon Currigan  16:13  

Because I know one analogy Emma always gives is when you're on an airline, if the cabin decompresses, they tell you to put the air mask on yourself before your kids because if you pass out, you can't help other people. So having that emotional strength and having that time to decompress is really important. 

Sara Turner  16:26  

Yeah, yeah. 

Simon Currigan  16:31  

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, from 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 you've been looking for today with inner circle, visit  And click on the inner circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

Do visits to prison affect children in terms of their emotions in the behaviour because it can imagine they kind of get used to the parent not being there using these coping strategies. But surely then going into prison for a visit much just crack those wide open. Sometimes?

Sara Turner  18:01  

I think they can be beneficial. I think the visits are beneficial for the children. My experience is it's really helped them to be able to like I say demystify the scenarios they've built in their heads that dad isnt eating. I've had children wanting to take food in, They've had this idea that he's wizened away and stuff. And I think they need to be able to see where he is for it to be a tangible real thing not be a fantasy. My colleague, she says that she thinks it's it helps maintain better emotional well being because they're able to see them. I mean, at the moment with COVID, the goal of one of my young people I work with is he just wants to see his dad. Prison visits are stopped. And he's like, I just want to see him. Having the visits, I think is hugely beneficial, but like you say, could open a can of worms, but then that's the whole bit about us supporting them and helping them work through that stuff. Okay, dad, or whoever has been sent away. So you're going to reinforce that by saying that they can't maintain a relationship with the child. 

Simon Currigan  18:59  

So you help them get the reassurance they need by going into the prison, but also your role is then to help them with the kind of emotional side of that? 

Sara Turner  19:07  


Simon Currigan  19:07  

They see their dad for a bit, and then they come away again, and they have to let go of him again. 

Sara Turner  19:10  

Yeah, but then knowing that they're gonna see him again, they know that's going to happen. And the thing is, with the visits, they have family days, you know, they are very child focused for the family days. So I think it's not as draconian as lots of people might think in their mind's eye like it is for the benefit for that child. Because we know the impact on the separation is huge.

Simon Currigan  19:31  

So if you're a teacher listening to this podcast, and you've got a child affected by imprisonment in your classroom, what's the first step you can take to start supporting them?

Sara Turner  19:41  

I think you need to let them know I think you need to let them know that they've got a safe place that in the school that they can go and talk to as they need to. I think that's a really good thing to do, be it then be in the family room, the you know, the pastoral services, whatever. But I also think it's really helpful to say to the child as well, what's going to help you? You know, having that dialogue going on. And they might not know, because they'd have sets of emotions they might not have experienced before. But I think to start that dialogue is really helpful to do you start chipping away at the stigma. And I think that's the thing, because it's horrible to have that feeling that something so awful is in your life that you can't talk about it to anybody.

Simon Currigan  20:19  

And from what you've said, it sounds like for those teachers who are nervous about saying the wrong thing, or having those conversations, actually, the reaction you're most likely to get from the child is relief?

Sara Turner  20:28  

I would say so. And I think, I think for any teachers that would feel nervous about any of that, you know, just go back to all your training about everything being child focused, but also you've got to be led by the child, you can't make a lot of assumptions because you might have a child who's absolutely bottling it up and is very withdrawn. You might have the one it's very angry that time though I think got to check in with the child what's going on for them really, and how they're managing it and how best you support them.

Simon Currigan  20:50  

And how can our listeners find out more about Ormiston Families the areas where you support children the resources that you've got? 

Sara Turner  20:57  

Right? Well, you could go onto our website, which is And we do cover all of East Anglia, we cover all of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire,  Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk. Have I left anyone out? I don't think so. So have a look on there. If you wanted to make a referral for anybody that are affected by it, just go onto the website, and you'll be able to find out how to make a referral from there. That's what we're there for, we'd love to hear from anybody struggling, we love to help if we can.

Simon Currigan  21:31  

 And will drop a direct link to your website as well in the show description. 

Sara Turner  21:35  

Thank you.

Simon Currigan  21:35  

So my final question, who's the key figure this influenced you? Or what's the key book that you've read that's had the biggest impact on your personal approach to working with kids?

Sara Turner  21:44  

I've been banging on about it all day, haven't I, all the interview about attachment. So it's got to be for me, it's Bowlby's work about attachment. That's the biggest thing that I've seen through my experience. So it's what I would go back to. And funnily enough, a book that I use with children is kind of about attachment. It's called The invisible string.(By Patrice Karst and Dana Wyss) And it's lovely. It's this whole workbook that goes with it. It's called The Invisible String. And it's this whole thing like if you're anxious that you're never alone, because you've got this piece of string that is attached to whoever is missing in your life. So it all goes full circle for me that Bowlby that I do that work with children, you've got this attachment, you've got this string, so don't ever feel alone.

Simon Currigan  22:26  

Sarah, thanks for being on the podcast, you've given us lots of useful practical insight about how to support kids who are going through the trauma of imprisonment. Thank you very much.

Sara Turner  22:35  

Thanks, Simon's pleasure to be with you. Thank you very much. 

Emma Shackleton  22:38  

Wow, she packed a lot of stuff into that interview. Really, really interesting.

Simon Currigan  22:44  

 I know. 

Emma Shackleton  22:44  

And if you want to know more about coaching kids to manage strong emotions, either through emotion coaching, or helping them learn mindfulness techniques to cope with those feelings, we've got resources in our inner circle to help

Simon Currigan  22:58  

it's full of simple step by step videos that guide you through techniques that have been proven to help kids with social, emotional and mental health issues.

Emma Shackleton  23:06  

For your free nothing held back trial, visit scroll down and click on the picture for inner circle. It will tell you everything that you need to know and next week we're going to explore the mysteries of the anger cycle. This tells you how a child's biology changes when they have an anger outburst so that you know the right support strategy, and you use it at the right time.

Simon Currigan  23:33  

If you work with kids who have trouble controlling their anger that is essential listening. So to make sure that you don't miss out open your podcast app now. press the subscribe button and your phone will harness the power of the entire internet. Yes, all of it to automatically download each and every episode so you don't miss a thing.

Emma Shackleton  23:53  

If you find today's podcast useful, why not be a great mate and recommend it to one friend, you could either send them a message or simply use the share button in your podcast app. That means other teachers and school leaders can find the show and start getting the help they need for the children in their classrooms. Thanks for listening to this episode, and we hope that you've got some useful takeaways from it. We'll see you on the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.

Simon Currigan  24:21  


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