The Founding Partners have joined forces with Birmingham women’s community project Anawim to help re-unite mothers leaving prison with their children. Here we examine the progress so far.

New Re-Unite Project based in BirmighamFor mothers with families in Birmingham, being in prison has additional hardships. Because there are no local women’s prisons, mothers and their children are often separated by long distances, accentuating the psychological effects of isolation on both.

“There is often a considerable travelling distance and expenses involved for families visiting these women,” says Joy Doal, manager of Anawim, the project partner working with Commonweal to roll out Re-Unite across Birmingham. “This contributes to mental health, anti-social behaviour and education issues for the children, many of whom are being cared for by their grandparents.”

Anawim, approached Commonweal after reading about the success of the South London pilot. “Re-Unite sounded like a great project that involved work we’re doing already in terms of offering support for women, and it has helped get us recognition and valuable support,” says Doal.

In addition to receiving funding of £20,000 from Commonweal to help with set-up costs, becoming a project partner also enabled Anawim to enter a further partnership with Midland Heart, one of the city’s largest social housing providers. Under the arrangement, Anawim has secured 10 homes for mothers leaving prison.

Anawim is supporting women from three prisons – Eastwood Park, Drake Hall, Peterborough, and is looking to support women from Foston Hall. Joy explains: “The model will help us to fill a gap in the provision of housing and support to families who have formerly not received tailored and specialist support.”

Joy believes Re-Unite will have a considerable local impact. “Providing housing and rehabilitation support for these service users and their children is particularly vital if we are to overcome the deleterious effect that imprisonment has on the mothers and their children,” she says.

Three women and their children are presently lined up for support when they leave prison and Anawim has trained a family support worker who has already started prison visits with these women.

“We’ve started working with one mother and are looking at how to re-establish trust. Her two-year old son has been living with his grandmother during this time,” she says. “The mother has finished a 12-month sentence and, as she goes through rehabilitation, we are beginning supervised crèche visits. Once trust is re-established within the family, we will then organise overnight visits – but it all takes time.”