Children Visiting Prisons


This chapter contains procedures and best practice guidance for safeguarding the welfare of children and young people who are visiting or having contact with adults or other young people who are in prison, focusing particularly on contact with persons identified as posing a risk to children.

It reflects National Offender Management Service (NOMS) guidance on 'Providing Visits and Services to Visitors (updated 2016)', the Public Protection Manual (Chapter 5 - Child Contact Procedures) and the principles contained in the Children Act 1989.

Clear and timely communications are essential to ensure that inter agency co-operation takes place and all regulations are implemented in the best interests of the child.


Are you a Young Person with a Family Member in Prison? (Action for Prisoner's Families)


Also see: Further Information - to follow.


This guidance was reviewed and updated throughout in February 2019 to reflect the latest Prison Service publications covering the provision of visits, including visits to prisoners who are identified as posing a risk to children and additional guidance in Chapter 2, Working Together to Safeguard Children on the statutory duties which apply to the Prison Service to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

1. Introduction and Duties of Prison Governors

Prisons are required by Prison Service Rules to actively encourage prisoners to maintain meaningful family ties while they are in custody. This includes the provision, where applicable, of regular and good quality contact time with children.

Prison Governors also have duties under s.11 Children Act to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and, in a prison context, this will include balancing a child's right to on-going contact with parents who are held in custody with the need to ensure any such on going contact is safe and in the child's best interests.

HM's Prison and Probation Service has in place a range of measures to reduce the risks that certain prisoners, especially those convicted of, or charged with, offences against children may present to children whilst in custody.

Prison staff and those working in visitor's centres should receive training, briefing or guidance as appropriate in safeguarding and child protection. This training should be relevant and proportionate to their likely level of contact with children and families, so they can take appropriate action if concerns are raised during a visit. The establishment - or the service provider - should arrange specific safeguarding and child protection training - rather than safeguarding awareness training - for Family Support Workers, Play Supervisors and Visitor Centre staff who supervise activities for children.

Chapter 2, Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out the following statutory duties which apply to the Prison Service:

Para 36.

The Prison Service is subject to the section 11 duties set out in chapter 2 of Working Together to Safeguard Children.

It also has a responsibility to identify prisoners who are potential or confirmed 'persons posing a risk to children' (PPRC) and through assessment establish whether the PPRC presents a continuing risk to children whilst in prison custody. Where an individual has been identified as a PPRC, the relevant prison establishment:

  • Should inform the local authority children's social care services of the offender's reception to prison, subsequent transfers, release on temporary licence and of release date and of the release address of the offender;
  • Should notify the relevant probation service provider of PPRC status. The police should also be notified of the release date and address;
  • May prevent or restrict a prisoner's contact with children. Decisions on the level of contact, if any, should be based on a multi-agency risk assessment. The assessment should draw on relevant risk information held by police, probation service provider and prison service. The relevant local authority children's social care should contribute to the multi-agency risk assessment by providing a report on the child's best interests. The best interests of the child will be paramount in the decision-making process.

A prison is also able to monitor an individual's communication (including letters and telephone calls) to protect children where proportionate and necessary to the risk presented.

Governors/Directors of women's prisons which have Mother and Baby Units (MBU) should ensure that:

  • There is at all times a member of staff allocated to the MBU, who as a minimum, is trained in first aid, whilst within the prison there is always a member of staff on duty who is trained in paediatric first aid (including child/adult resuscitation) who can be called to the MBU if required;
  • There is a contingency plan/policy in place for child protection, first aid including paediatric first aid and resuscitation, which should include advice for managing such events, and which provides mothers with detailed guidance as to what to do in an emergency;
  • Each baby has a child care plan setting out how the best interests of the child will be maintained and promoted during the child's residence in the unit.

See also: Providing Visits and Services to Visitors (updated 2016).

2. Staying in Touch with a Family Member in Custody

Children and families can maintain contact with a family member in prison in the following ways:

  • By writing a letter (letters may be read by prison staff before being delivered);
  • Email a Prisoner whereby emails are printed out and delivered to prisoners by a Prison Officer. Each email costs 40p;
  • By receiving calls from the prisoner's telephones (this is expensive and there can be long queues to use the telephone);
  • By sending voice messages via the Prison Voicemail Service; and
  • Through social visits.

Prisoners are not allowed access to social networking sites or mobile telephones while in custody (although it should be noted that the illegal use of mobile telephones does occur). Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult when visiting a prison; however in exceptional circumstances and with prior agreement, Governors may allow young people between the ages of 16 and 18 years to visit on their own. The maximum number of adults allowed at each social visit is 3, but there are no restrictions on the number of children who can visit. The prison should be informed if more than 3 children will be visiting, so that appropriate seating arrangements can be put in place.

Family days and child centred extended visits provide an opportunity for prisoners, their children and partners to come together to enjoy and share family time in a more normalised environment. They are characterised by more relaxed interaction and fewer restrictions than at regular visits. The organisation, availability, style of family days, and prisoner eligibility vary across prisons; details of family days should be contained in information provided when a family member is imprisoned.

Children should be provided with age appropriate information about the visits process so they know what to expect; this could include explaining that they may be searched, that dogs who have been trained to detect drugs will be present; that items like mobile phones cannot be taken into visits and that physical contact (hugging etc.) during visits is likely to be restricted.

3. Contact Requests

Prison Rules require prisons to actively encourage prisoners to maintain outside contacts and meaningful family ties. This is integral to the prisoner's Right to Family Life as well as their rehabilitation. Visits are seen as crucial to sustaining relationships with close relatives, partners and friends and help prisoners maintain links with the community.

Prison Rules 34 and 73 (1) /YOI Rules 9 and 77 allow the Governor discretion to refuse a social visit or determine the conditions under which it takes places. Any such decision must be necessary for one of the purposes specified in the Rules and should be proportionate to the objective being pursued. These criteria reflect the requirements of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If a prisoner wishes to apply to have a visit from a child they must add the child's details to their visitor list.

A register providing a record of applications for visits must be held on file. This record will become part of the prisoner's main record and will follow the prisoner on transfer. Each prison establishment should maintain a central record indicating which prisoners are subject to restrictions due to any risk they represent to children, details of which prisoners are allowed child visits or other contact and details of prisoners who have been refused child visits or other contact.

4. Contact with a Prisoner who is Identified as Posing a Risk to Children

See also: Public Protection Manual (Chapter 5 - Child Contact Procedures).

Prisoners who have been convicted of, or charged with, an offence against a child or who have a previous conviction for an offence against a child including offences of violence, sexual offences, neglect and abuse or who present an identified risk of harm (Risk to Children), will only be allowed on-going contact or visits following completion of a comprehensive multi agency risk assessment of the prisoner and a "best interests" assessment for the child in order to decide what, if any, form of contact is appropriate. Contact includes correspondence, telephone calls and social visits.

In most cases the potential risk to children will be determined from the index offence or from previous convictions. However a number of prisoners will be identified as presenting a risk because of their behaviour or actions whilst in custody.

Prisons must identify prisoners pose a risk of harm to children and then complete a multi agency risk assessment to determine what, if any, contact the prisoner will be allowed with a child(ren). Identified prisoners will be asked if they intend to request child contact; if they do this the multi agency risk assessment should be commenced.

The over-riding principle is that the child's welfare is paramount - and that any contact must be in the child's best interest.

4.1 Parental Support for Contact

The prison establishment should ask the parent of the child whether they support contact. Children's Social Care Services for the area where the child is living should be asked to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child during a home visit. The person who has Parental Responsibility and is currently caring for the child must support any contact.

In cases where the parent does not support contact, the prison establishment should inform Children's Social Care Services of the parent's decision.

4.2 Looked After Children

Where the child is Looked After, the local authority's view about the appropriateness of contact must be obtained in writing. The test is always whether contact is in the child's best interest.

Whether or not the local authority shares Parental Responsibility, the views of the parent must also be included and taken into account.

4.3 The Multi-Agency Risk Assessment

In order for the prison establishment to undertake the risk assessment to determine what contact, if any, is appropriate, it must contact and gather information from a range of agencies:

  1. The police in the child's home authority must be contacted and asked for any information on the child and the prisoner;
  2. The prison based probation officer should be provided with the details of the prisoner's application and, where a prisoner will be subject to licence supervision on release or has been recalled for breach of licence for the current offence, the home National Probation Service provider must be contacted and asked for information and comments. In addition if the prisoner is a young offender and is supervised, Children's Social Care Services in the child's home authority must be contacted;
  3. Where appropriate, the NSPCC may be contacted for additional information as some prison establishments have developed a partnership with the NSPCC who will search their database for information relating to the risk of harm to a child;
  4. A letter to the Head of Children's Social Care Services containing all known details of the prisoner and the child with a photograph. This must be followed up with a prompt phone contact to the Safeguarding Manager in the Children's Social Care Services.

The Children's Services Department will carry out an assessment and provide a written report with recommendations within 3 weeks. This report should include a statement that the identity of the child in the photograph has been confirmed.

The views of the child or young person will be an important element of the assessment.

Subject to their age and level of understanding, the views of the child must be considered as part of the assessment. The Children's Services will ascertain the views of the child during the home visit. They should also identify an Appropriate Adult(s) as good practice who will accompany the child when visiting the prisoner. (This might be a parent or family member).

4.4 The Decision

The operational manager with delegated authority in the prison establishment, - who has responsibility for Public Protection, will make the decision regarding contact using the available multi agency information. The decision must take into account the following factors:

  • The child's needs, wishes and feelings;
  • The capacity of the parent to protect the child from significant harm;
  • The prisoner's risk to the public;
  • Pre-sentence reports;
  • Previous convictions;
  • Custodial behaviour and any other documentation highlighting risk.

4.5 Level of Contact Decided

The operational manager should decide the level of contact that will be permitted. It should be proportionate to any risks identified; the best interests of the child should always be the overriding principle in making these decisions.

Contact restrictions should be incremental and one of the following levels will be applied:

  • Level one: Full restrictions apply. No contact with any child is permitted and all correspondence and telephone calls will be monitored;
  • Level two: Contact with a named child only via written correspondence. All correspondence and telephone calls may be monitored;
  • Level three: Contact with a named child only is permitted via written correspondence and telephone. All correspondence and telephone calls may be monitored;
  • Level four: No restrictions necessary. May have contact with a named child only via correspondence, telephone, visits and family visits. Routine sampling applies – reading of correspondence, listening to telephone calls, general observation in visiting area. This level of contact applies only to those children that the prisoner has permission to have contact with. All other children will be subject to Level One restrictions.

The decision should be communicated and explained to the child and their carer.

4.6 Monitoring

The level and frequency of monitoring will be proportionate to the risk identified. Monitoring should focus on whether the prisoner is attempting to contact children inappropriately and what references about children are made in general correspondence i.e. grooming or manipulation of a child or a parent.

Monitoring of prisoners who present a risk to children in the visits area is required to establish if appropriate contact is taking place between an offender and a child where child visits have been permitted. Other prisoners who present a risk to children and have not been permitted contact with a child must be supervised in such a way that contact is not possible.

Recorded e.g. audio cassettes, CDs and VideoCDs, and electronic information, needs to be monitored because it affords an easy disguise for inappropriate information.

4.7 Correct Identification of Children

It is necessary to take steps to prevent a child being substituted with another possibly more vulnerable child where visits take place. Prison staff monitoring calls, correspondence and visiting areas need to be vigilant and prevent any inappropriate contact where identified.

Four passport style photographs will be required of each child and these should be updated annually or earlier if there is a significant change in a child's appearance.

4.8 Reviewing Contact Decisions

Where a decision has been made to restrict contact, the decision will be reviewed when there is reason to believe that circumstances have changed. Reviews can be made at any time on the initiative of prison staff or at the request of the prisoner. It is good practice to review decisions every 6 months.

Any decision to change the level of contact permitted must be based on what is best for the child. The child's welfare is paramount at all times. The decision must take into account the views of the Police, Probation and local Children's Social Care Services, via the LA Safeguarding Unit.

4.9 Appeals Process

All prison establishments have procedures for prisoners who wish to appeal a decision to restrict contact or not to permit any contact at all with a child.

If the prisoner wishes to challenge the information held on file, the information provided by other agencies should only be disclosed to the prisoner with the agreement of the other agency.