Re-Unite was established by Commonweal Housing in 2007 to provide housing and support for women leaving prison to reunite them swiftly with their children.
The Re-Unite programme is delivered through a network of voluntary organisations and social enterprises at the heart of their communities, working in partnership with other agencies to ensure successful interventions and positive outcomes for the women and their children.
In October 2014 the responsibility for hosting the Re-Unite network transferred to a partnership between Women’s Breakout and Anawim and will cease at the end of September 2016.
Six projects continue to deliver the Re-Unite approach. Four projects ceased delivering Re-Unite in the main due to lack of capacity and funding.
Five of the remaining six projects have made some adaptations to the original service delivery plan:
- To better meet the needs of the families
- The impact of external factors such as limited access to women in prison, affordable housing as a result of policy changes such as Transforming and Rehabilitation and the national shortage of affordable social housing.
Whilst most projects were able to secure hostel or one-bed accommodation for women (although this too is becoming increasingly more difficult), finding family accommodation was far more problematic. However, one project has maintained an effective partnership with a housing provider and is able to access family accommodation.
Some families did not want to move from their temporary family accommodation to permanent family housing. The children found multiple moves a major disruption in their lives and resulted in a changes of school and having to make new friends.
Outcomes for children
The emphasis of the work of the Re-Unite projects has been addressing the mother’s needs and monitoring the outcome for women. The study on the outcomes for children affected by maternal imprisonment will inform the development of a ‘gold standard’ services and support for these children.
Changes in the Criminal Justice System
From discussion with the Re-Unite projects there was a clear disparity in the implementation of the changes within the Criminal Justice system, especially the rolling out of Transforming Rehabilitation. One key issue with the recent changes is the lack of funding for one to one work with women, in preference to support through group work and courses. Many women in the Criminal Justice System have very complex needs and require one to one support in the initial stages of their support in order to facilitate engagement to address their specific needs. Many projects found it difficult undertaking ‘in reach’ prison work with the women.
Changes in long term planning for children
Many Re-Unite projects expressed concern about the lack of legal advice available for women who were separated from their children. They felt there was an increasing use of faster processes for placing children for adoption and an increasing use of Guardianship orders. Two projects highlighted the number of women who had experienced multiple permanent separation from their children and most had never received any support to address their losses even though they experienced major trauma.
Many projects will continue to assist and support women in the Criminal Justice System to be reunited with their children, where it is in the child’s best interest.
An area of social injustice has been highlighted by the study on the outcomes for children affected by maternal imprisonment. These vulnerable children are hidden and forgotten, not only within the Criminal Justice System but the wider society. It will require the development of integrated national policies and responsive services to ensure their needs are met and positive outcomes achieved.
Sue Payne (Re-Unite Development Worker)