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AWARD WINNER 2011-12: Brenda is the inspiration and driving force behind Families First at HMP & YOI Doncaster. Families First aims to reduce reoffending by helping prisoners to maintain and develop relationships with their partners and children through initiatives, facilitated by fully trained staff, such as toddler mornings, family days and “Daddy Newborn”, in which fathers can spend time with their newborn child in a specially designed room. None of this would have happened without Brenda’s vision and refusal to take “no” for an answer. (This Award is supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust).


[Brenda Fraser gives her account of the work for which she won her Award]

Families First is an initiative which was developed to respond to the impact on relationships prison life can bring. Through a variety of activities I educate families about family values, personal relationships. Prisoner ties with families has been strengthened. This has been proven to reduce re-offending.

Families First was implemented to improve relations between prisoners and their families. The Families First programmes support fathers to develop and maintain ties with their families, something which has a proven affect on the likelihood of prisoners reoffending. I  introduced numerous innovative schemes to support offenders to maintain family relationships, Families First compromises of the following:

Early Year Foundation Stages (Families) This course is designed for families to learn together Creative and physical Development, Knowledge and understanding of the world, problem solving, reasoning and numeracy, communication, language and literacy and personal, social and emotional development.

Developing Parenting Skills (Prisoners) Raise awareness about family issues and to enhanceParenting skills.

Daddy Newborn (Families) Aimed at Dads who have just become fathers while in prison or before coming in.

Bond with your child from Birth to 6 months

Daddy Toddler Mornings (Families) Dads will actively take part in play with their child Painting, Gluing, drawing, puzzles, books and play.  (Introducing fine and gross motors skills)

Homework Dads (Families & Weekends) Aimed at older children 5-16 yrs to spend quality time with Dad. Children must bring in their homework or projects they are currently working on.

Treasure Box (Prisoners Only) Aimed at Dads who have lost contact with their children or simply things are difficult come and make a box of mementoes for your child.

Parenting (Women Only) Time out for women, these are the mums who attend Toddlers raise awareness about family issues and to enhance Parenting skills.

Relationships (Building Stronger Families) We strongly believe that everyone gains if couples’ relationships are stronger: the couples themselves enjoy their relationship more, the children feel happier and more secure, and society is strengthened

Family Days We run family days on Easter, Summer Holidays, Halloween and Christmas incorporating national days and awareness days.

Families First  has been so successful in introducing such schemes that maintaining family ties is now core priority work within the prison and a crucial element of the work being done to reduce re-offending as part of the Ministry of Justice’s four-year ‘payment by results’ pilot recently introduced at Doncaster.


[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Brenda Fraser has won a Butler Trust Award for her work as Families First coordinator at HMP and YOI Doncaster. Close family ties have been shown to dramatically cut the likelihood of reoffending, and Families First helps offenders to develop relationships with their partners and children through a wide range of initiatives.

Provision for family work at Doncaster had traditionally been sparse, with just one two-hour programme each week – ‘story sack’ – which was also run by Brenda. ‘I tried to get more things in place for families, but no one would ever take on board what I wanted,’ she says.

Things changed, however, when a new director, John Biggin, came to the prison. ‘He saw me doing “story sack” in this little poky room, and I said, “Our family facilities are very poor – have you ever thought of having a full time support worker? I’ve got ideas I’d like to implement.” He told me to write a business plan.’

Once approved, a major construction project was started to turn unused space in the visits complex into the Families First department, including classrooms, interview rooms and a breakout area. The department was opened in February 2010, offering toddler mornings – either inside or outside on a specially designed grass area – family days, and accredited parenting and early years’ foundation programmes. Other initiatives include ‘treasure box’, designed to help fathers reintroduce themselves to estranged children and delivered in partnership with social services, projects for fathers to help with their children’s homework and the unique ‘Daddy Newborn’ scheme, which allows new fathers to spend time with their babies in a specially designed room – bathing, feeding and dressing them, monitoring their weight on a record chart and generally bonding with their newborn child.

Getting it all established was far from an easy ride, however. ‘I got a lot of resistance,’ she says. ‘People didn’t agree that prisoners should get this sort of quality time. They believed it was a security risk, they thought it was pink and fluffy, but I carried on. I used to go home crying – they thought I was a goody two shoes – but nothing was going to stop me.’ Eventually, she won over the doubters when it became obvious that Families First was having a noticeably positive effect, and that security had not been compromised. ‘I work very, very closely with security – I need them to be my eyes and ears,’ she says.

‘Everybody’s security-cleared and searched when they come in, and they need clean intel for three months. It’s zero tolerance – if you’ve got anything on your intel you can’t come down here. We have drug dogs, and we also do spot-checks to keep them on their toes and let them know they’re not going to smuggle down here.’ The level of contraband smuggling has actually declined, she stresses. ‘Everyone complies because nobody wants to lose this – they value it so much.’ Indeed, feedback from prisoners has been overwhelmingly positive.

‘They love it, they feel valued, they’re spending quality time with their families and going back on to the wings much more relaxed. They’re not frustrated like they used to be when they were just sitting in the visits hall having a mindless chat and the kids were playing in the play area. I get letters, there’s a book they write in – they just think it’s amazing, especially Daddy Newborn, which they think is priceless. Everybody laughed at me when I wanted that one.’

Daddy Newborn runs every day, and prisoners have a regular, allotted slot. Before, they would meet their babies for the first time in the visiting hall, she points out. ‘All you can do there is just sit and hold the baby, and maybe feed it.

If a prisoner’s in here for six months to a year he’s never going to know that child or bond with that child correctly, so you’re risking that family splitting up. By the time he gets out there’s resentment because she’s done everything and held the fort.’

All the activities, however, are mapped against reducing reoffending pathways, and feedback from the prison authorities has been equally enthusiastic. ‘They love it – I don’t get any animosity at all now, even from the wings, because they know that if a prisoner’s not behaving on the wings he’s not coming down here.

I’m not going to let you come down here and mingle with other families and children if you can’t behave. It’s part of the prison and they’ve embraced it – they’ve realised we’re making a difference. We’re educating families – the prisoner, the partner and the children – and everything we do has an objective. It’s all educational, it’s all family-orientated, and the behaviour’s just outstanding.’

It’s early days to start quantifying the effect on reoffending rates, however. ‘We now need to start collating our evidence to prove that it works,’ she says. ‘But one thing that sticks in my mind is that when I started this there was a prisoner who was a prolific offender for ten years, a drug addict on methadone. He had a new partner and a baby born when he was back in here. He wanted to do Daddy Newborn because he said it was his last chance, and for six months he never missed a session – he was petrified and didn’t know what to do, because all he’d done was drugs. But he was an absolutely brilliant dad. He said it taught him how to be a human being, and that his daughter was the only drug he needed. It’s made him feel like a valued person. He said, “I won’t be back”, and he hasn’t. Brenda ran the scheme on her own for nine months, with four play providers helping with the toddler days and family days, before taking on another facilitator, bringing the number of staff to five. The family work at Doncaster has since been described by chief inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick as among the best he’d ever seen, while the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, described Daddy Newborn as ‘inspirational’.

She’d like to see similar schemes in all prisons, she says. ‘I go to a lot of conferences and I get annoyed. At one, people told me they’d been given a load of money to implement this, but they were worried as PCOs that they wouldn’t have time to run interventions – and they won’t. It’s hard work and it takes up a lot of time, so until all prisons realise they need to take a chance and put a person in that role to do these interventions it won’t work. I think, “just pay somebody to be a family facilitator in your prison and you’ll see a massive difference”. Yes, it’s hard, yes you’ve got to get everyone on board but I’ve proved that it works – you can get the prison behind you.

‘It’s the only way forward, it does help to reduce offending,’ she continues. ‘The amount of families we’ve kept together is unbelievable. Otherwise the woman is on her own and she’s just become a mother. You’ve got him putting pressure on her to come and visit all the time, but they’re not quality visits. She’s on benefits, trying to look after the children and keep the home running and visit him. How much pressure is that? It’s immense, but people don’t see that. We keep them together, because we’ll discuss these things with them and we’re taking that pressure away. And it saves the taxpayer money by keeping them together.’

For more information: contact HMP & YOI Doncaster

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