COMMENDEE 2017-18: Claire Malarkey is a family support worker at HMP/YOI Askham Grange, a women’s open prison near York with an emphasis on the importance of children and families in reducing reoffending. Her extraordinary ‘think family’ approach – supported by her formidable liaison work across a strong network of local support agencies – is described by a colleague as “the cornerstone of all we do”.
[Summary of original nomination and supporting materials submitted to the Trust]
Governor Susan Howard calls Claire:
“…a shining example of how partner agencies can work effectively together within the establishment to ensure a holistic approach that recognises and supports women in their custodial journey.”
Claire currently works for The Prison Advice & Care Trust (PACT), a national charity supporting prisoners to make a fresh start, and was previously at Barnardo’s for five years. Local Butler Trust Champion Neil Dembry, Custodial Manager at Askham Grange, refers to Claire as the prison’s “cornerstone”, adding that “she has a resilience, drive and commitment to provide the best possible care and support for all of the residents”.
Initial nominator Simon Cox, Custodial Manager, emphasises Claire’s interest in “always seeking to maximise the individual’s benefit” through her successful liaison, working closely with schools, child social services, Mental Health and After Adoption services, for example.
Neil also highlights Claire’s ‘drop-in service’ providing women ongoing access to her services, and describes an “incredible ‘can do’ attitude in seeking out the correct support measures for any individual. A resident never leaves an appointment with Claire feeling helpless.” Calling her “an exceptional individual”, he says “her approach and humility get the best from everyone she meets in some of the most difficult of circumstances”.
Constantly seeking to improve her skills, Claire does regular training and visits other prisons seeking out best practice – and she also delivers training at a national level. The instrumental role she plays in organising family fun days for all of the residents’ families is reflected in relationships she has developed with family members in the community, who regularly telephone for advice.
Claire also volunteers a Sunday each month to provide enhanced visits in the visits hall for children and families, arranging activities like biscuit making or face painting, or making greetings cards for special occasions. In short, says Neil, “Claire has the creativity and imagination to ensure everyone in the visits room has a wonderful time.”
One prisoner explains the impact Claire had on her life:
“Claire has helped me to get more confidence and be a better parent. My relationship with my children was constantly at the forefront of my mind, I couldn’t concentrate or sleep. Claire was the first person since coming to prison who knew how to help me and what my rights are. This helped settle me so I could finish my sentence plan.”
Governor Susan Howard says, “Claire always displays immense compassion and commitment to her role”, and this is reflected in Claire’s own words, where she says, “I believe that the role I fulfil allows vulnerable women to have a voice.”
Looking ahead, Claire is particularly generous in highlighting her co-workers: “My key goal is to be able to continue to offer positive outcomes and support to the women of Askham Grange and their families alongside my fabulous colleagues.”