15th March 2011

NIACRO, the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, is an NGO providing a range of services to people and communities affected by crime and recently joined the Eurochips network. NIACRO works with children and young offenders, with adult offenders, ex-prisoners, prisoners and their families children. NIACRO seeks to use its experience to influence those who make policy, those who deliver services and the general public.

Family Links is a NIACRO programme supporting prisoners’ families in Northern Ireland. The project was developed for three key reasons:
a) Prisoners who are able to maintain good relationships with their families while in prison are less likely to reoffend on release
b) the children of prisoners are themselves at increased risk of offending and
c) the families of prisoners are unrecognised victims of crime and need support.

Family Links is currently the only service of its kind in Europe. The formal tripartite referral protocol between NIACRO, NI Prison Service and Probation Board NI is unique and ensures that the Family Links service is offered to all prisoners entering custody in Northern Ireland. It combines practical service delivery with an evidence based approach to ensure that practice in relation to family support is constantly challenged and improved. Family Links staff have a close working relationship with Prison Service Family Officers in all prisons. Information or concerns that families may have pass between Family Links staff and Family Prison Officers regularly in an effort to allay fears or maintain contact.

How does it work? Upon entering into one of the three prisons in Northern Ireland prisoners are informed about Family Links. Once the prisoners have given his permission, Family Links workers will try to contact their family within 24 hours. Family Links recognises the emotional shock that the family may be experiencing and the staff keeps regular phone contact, also visits the families at home in cases of particular difficulties. Further they speak to the children about what has happened and provide support in telling teachers or other important people in the child’s life.

Under the “Case studies” link on this page you can read first hand accounts of a young person’s story and a family member’s story.

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Author: rmchristen