Helen Connolly, South Australia’s first Children’s Commissioner, has been in South Wales learning how Barnardo’s Cymru supports children who are affected by abuse or have parents in prison.
She was able to talk to prisoners at HMP Parc near Bridgend, tour the prison’s visitor centre run by Barnardo’s Cymru and visit the charity’s Better Futures service. Better Futures helps children and young people affected by the trauma of abuse, who engage in harmful sexual behaviour and who are victims of child sexual exploitation.
Ms Connolly was on a fact-finding trip to Wales which also included discussions with Wales’ Children’s Commissioner Sally Holland, Cardiff University and Public Health Wales.
“I wanted to visit Barnardo’s because it is really important to see what is happening on the ground and the generosity of the group has been fantastic. We have a lot to learn from countries where issues are developing quicker and it has been interesting to hear about the journey Barnardo’s has been on to develop services.
“It was fantastic to visit Parc and hear about the scope of the services within the prison and visitor centre. I had chance to talk to some of the dads which was priceless,” she said.
She heard about interventions designed to maintain relationships between prisoners and their families, reducing the likelihood of them reoffending on release. They include baby bathing, rhyme time sessions, parent teacher events inside the prison and chance for fathers to record bedtime stories for their children.
Ms Connolly said: “The dads talked about how their focus is on their children, how they are engaged and interested in their children’s futures and that’s why they want to participate. It was such a positive message.”
Barnardo’s Cymru recently produced training and a guide book for schools to help teachers identify children in their classes who have a parent in prison, support them appropriately and introduce lessons into the classroom so that stigma is reduced.
Ms Connolly also had chance to learn about Barnardo’s work with the victims of abuse and those who get caught up in harmful sexual behaviour, who have often been victims themselves.
She also heard about research with boys and young men who are victim to child sexual exploitation. It showed they often feel discouraged from disclosing their abuse and are often treated quite differently to girls who have been through similar experiences.
Barnardo’s has been working with a small group of young men to explore ways professionals can better understand the issues, identify and support those affected.
Pat Duke, Barnardo’s Cymru assistant director, said: “We were very pleased to host the Commissioner’s visit and share our exciting and pioneering work in this field.”