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Effective Prison Family Visiting Using The Communication Friendly Spaces™ Approach

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ELIZABETH JARMAN®, Action for Children and HMP Styal Mother and Baby Unit, UK

“Current research gives us far better understanding about the way that the environment can be used to support family communication. If we provide really effective places to facilitate prison family visits, we can help families to stay connected.”
Elizabeth Jarman

In 2013-4, working collaboratively, ELIZABETH JARMAN® and Action for Children, UK embarked on an innovative and successful action research project to test out and gain more understanding about the way that the environment and resources within it could be used to support better prison family visits, connection and transition for children into new environments. The project was delivered at HMP Styal Mother and Baby Unit, set up and run by Action for Children in 2006. The MBU is a separate residential unit within the secure area of the prison and provides family support and Early Years sessional care to babies aged up to 18 months who reside on the unit with their mother during her custodial sentence.

Together, partners structured a ‘families led’ project using ELIZABETH JARMAN® Communication Friendly Spaces™ Bags for Families (renamed Family Visit Bags for this project) as an intervention tool. The project captured observations of the process in action from different perspectives in a variety of ways from conversations, to analysis of the visual data collected by the families.

A wealth of research confirms that engaging families in supporting children’s communication skills is essential. The Bags for Families intervention has been used with over 60,000 families in the UK, the States and Malta. Each bag offers a range of different ‘open-ended’ resources for families to use, typically in and around the home environment, encouraging practical family time, building ‘spaces’, playing and exploring together.

This report outlines the context, project delivery, impact so far and makes recommendations to trigger and inspire further discussion around effective environments to support better contact between prisoners and their families.


ELIZABETH JARMAN® specialises in developing really effective learning environments using The Communication Friendly Spaces™ Approach, conceptualised and developed by Elizabeth Jarman. See www.elizabethjarmantraining.co.uk for further information.

Action for Children is a UK-wide charity that speaks out for the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people, and supports them to break through injustice, deprivation and inequality, so they can achieve their full potential. See www.actionforchildren.co.uk for further information.

Press enquiries:

ELIZABETH JARMAN® This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Molly Horsburgh This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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