Being a Parent in Prison

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Please note, sections of this article have been referenced from Prisoners’ Advice Service. The information is correct for Scotland, but you should be aware that they are a charity offering free legal support to people in England and Wales, and does not, at the time of writing, cover Scotland.

If you are a parent, and you are given a prison sentence, it can be a worrying time. The Scottish Prison Service recognises that there are a number of parents in prison, and understands it has a role in supporting parents. 

“48% of offenders who participated in the SPS Prisoner Survey in 2011 said they were parents and the most recent information from analytical colleagues suggests around 17000 children are affected by parental imprisonment in Scotland”.

Source: Scottish Prison Service ‘National Parenting Strategy Outcomes Policy’

You may wonder whether you can remain in contact with your child, and if so, what that contact might look like.

The Scottish Prison Service recognises the importance of maintaining family bonds, and the role that this can play in rehabilitation. Your family members may be able to keep in touch with you by phone, email, and  prison visits.

“The SPS is committed to working with offenders, their families, the community and partners in order to encourage and maintain meaningful family contact throughout an offender’s time in custody.”

Source: Scottish Prison (National Parenting Strategy Outcomes Policy)

Children’s visits policy

The Scottish Prison Service has a children’s visits policy. Children’s visits are available in addition to the prisoner’s statutory visiting rights. Each prison must take steps to help maintain family ties, where positive relationships exist (or where it is possible to build them).

Remember, the below factors are to be used as a guide only and each application will be considered depending on the situation.

 Children’s Visits Criteria

  •  Any parent who is allowed to have access to their child will normally be able to apply for a Children’s Visit;
  • The child must be aged 17 or under;
  • The prisoner requesting the visit must be the parent, step-parent, kinship care of the child or have, or have had, the responsibility for the care and custody of the child. Head of Operations may ask for evidence to support statements made in the application regarding the prisoner’s relationship to the child.Applications may be considered where such a relationship has not been established, however there should be compelling grounds for allowing such visits; and
  • Confirmation that there are no child protection/welfare concerns or issues.

Public Protection Restrictions

If you have committed an offence which might mean you pose a risk to a child, you might face what is known as public protection restrictions. 

The outcome of the assessment will depend on a number of factors. 

If public protection restrictions are imposed on you because you are deemed to pose a continuing risk to children, but you want to have contact with your child, then you must first make an application to your prison and not the court. 

Usually, you are only allowed to apply for contact with children in your immediate family. The prison must ask the child’s other parent or carer if they support contact, and the prison can only allow contact if they do. If they do not, then your request for contact will be refused. 

If you still want contact, you will then need to make an application to the family court. The court will consider the prison’s risk assessment when it decides on your application. It is sometimes possible to challenge public protection restrictions under prison law. 

(page 11 PAS GUide)

A table with examples of appropriate language use

What are the rights of someone who is a parent in prison?

You have what is known as parental responsibility if you are named on your child’s birth certificate.

What if I am not named on my child’s birth certificate?

“If you aren’t on the child’s birth certificate and the child’s mother agrees that you should have parental responsibility, you can jointly fill in a parental responsibility agreement. This can be done whether you  are the biological parent or a step-parent. Again, though, the forms have to be signed in front of an approved person, so it will probably be very difficult to do this from prison.”

iv) Applying to the court for PR If none of the above options describes your situation, you can apply to the court for PR. You can do this at the same time as applying for a section 8 order. In fact, it is best to do so. This can be done, regardless of whether you are a birth parent or step-parent. As of February 2021, this costs £215. If you have no income, and little or no savings, you can apply for an exemption or reduction in the fee using form EX160.

Source: Prisoners’ Advice Service page 4

What happens if I would like to have contact with my child, and the other parent doesn’t want me to?

The Prisoners’ Advisor service suggests that if you are able to, you could try speaking or writing to the other parent to try and resolve the issue.

“Remember to Keep any letter polite and clear. Try not to fall out with your child’s carer, as this will make it more difficult to agree on things involving your child”

You can find further advice some advice around this plus an example situation on pages 6 & 7 of the Prisoners’ Advice Service guide

What happens if I would like to have contact with my child, and my child doesn’t want to?

A parent should not react by simply stopping contact. They should try to find out why the child does not want contact anymore. It may be that the timing of contact does not suit the child, or there is a worry about the way the child spends time with the non-resident parent. It may also be a reflection of the resident parent’s concerns. A child will often say what they think the parent will want to hear.

Children’s wishes and feelings are very important and should be taken into account in light of their age and understanding. However, generally, their wishes and feelings will not ultimately determine what happens. In most cases, the courts view contact as being in the best interests of the child, see both parents involvement as a benefit to the child’s welfare, and will only refuse to make an order in exceptional circumstances.

Source: Contact - childlawadvice.org.uk

What happens if my child’s other parent makes a decision about my child’s life that I don’t agree with?

The Prisoner’s Advice Service suggests that you should firstly consider whether it is a decision the court would get involved with. There will be some day-to-day decisions that you cannot control, for example what time your child goes to bed, how they get their hair cut, or whether they play with certain friends on their street. These are decisions that your child’s carer is allowed to make alone. A court will not get involved in making decisions like this.

What happens if the other parent won’t agree to me having contact with my child?

If you wish to have contact with your children,and the other parent doesn’t agree, you might need to make an application to court. You can find the links to forms on the Prisoners’ Advice Service website

“a) The most common application fathers in prison want to make is an application to have visits from their children (this is also called ‘having contact’ with you). You do this by making an application for a ‘child arrangements order’ (‘CAO’). 

b) You can also make applications about important decisions regarding your children, like which school your child goes to, or what name your child is known by, if you disagree with their carer about these things. These are applications for a ‘specific issue order’ (‘SIO’). 

c) You can also ask the court to make an order that stops someone from doing certain things, like taking the child to live in another country. There are applications for an Interdict Order 

These three types of orders are sometimes called ‘section 8 orders’, named after the section of the Children Act that they are covered by. This guide will call them ‘section 8 orders’. The Children Act 1989 is the legal Act of Parliament that allows people to make these applications to the court” 

Source: the text above has been amended for Scotland from Prisoners’ Advice Service: Introduction 

Consent Order or Minute of Agreement 

In Scotland, a court order by agreement is called a Minute of Agreement. Each parent is advised to consult a solicitor before filing for a Minute of Agreement, so have one of these legal professionals file for you. They can do this relatively inexpensively if you hand them a court-ready parenting plan.

Source: Custody XChange 


“Generally, the court only orders a child to have contact with a non-residential parent. However, anyone else who applies can also receive contact.

There are two types of contact:

  • Direct: This allows face-to-face time.
  • Indirect: This allows video calls, phone calls, emails, etc. (This might be appropriate for long-distance circumstances or if a parent needs to re-establish a relationship with their child.)”

Source: Custody XChange 

Specific Issue Order

A Specific Issue Order resolves a particular dispute about parental responsibility.

For example, it could determine:

  • Whether your child should change their name
  • What school they should attend
  • Whether they have a surgery


An Interdict  prevents a parent from taking some action that would affect the child.

For example, it could prevent them from:

  • Taking the child abroad
  • Authorising a risky medical treatment for the child


Parental Responsibility and Parental Rights Order

A Parental Responsibility and Parental Rights Order grants parental responsibility to someone who's not a legal parent. You must be connected to the child closely to receive one, perhaps as a relative or a family friend.

If you're named in a Residence Order or the child lives with part of a Child Arrangements Order, you get parental responsibility automatically, so a Parental Responsibility Order would not be necessary.

Parental responsibility is sometimes granted with a Contact Order or the spends time with part of an order, but this is not automatic.

Source: Custody XChange 

When a court issues orders, you must follow them.

For other types of orders granted by court, please see Custody Xchange

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.


Being in prison does not mean you cannot be a parent or that you should not be involved in your child’s life. 

Being in prison does not mean you lose your parental responsibility for a child. 

You can apply to the court to help you take part in your child’s life. 

If you want to see your child, have telephone/video calls with them or write to them, but are being stopped from doing so, you can make an application to court for contact.

Last updated:
February 24, 2024


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