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Home > Bedford Row Family Project: Holding the suffering.

Higgins, Ann and Bourke, Ruth (2017) Bedford Row Family Project: Holding the suffering. Limerick: Bedford Row Family Project.

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The Transforming Education through Dialogue (TED) Project was invited by the Bedford Row Family Project (BRFP1) to undertake this research. The aim of the research was to identify the model of service delivery being undertaken by the BRFP, to gain an understanding of the impact of engagement for individuals and families, to situate the research within the literature and make recommendations for improvement. The research adopted an ethnographic case study approach informed by narrative inquiry principles. Data was collected via individual interviews, focus groups, member checks and document analysis. A total of fifty-four participants took part in the interviews including children who participate in the Children’s Club, adults who either participate in group initiatives such as the Life Skills Groups or the Men’s Groups, or in individual initiatives such as counselling and one-to-one support. BRFP staff along with members of the BRFP Board of Management and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) were also interviewed. Most interviews were audio recorded.

This research describes in detail the implications of imprisonment for families and prisoners. The impact of imprisonment was found to have long and short term impact at a societal, family and personal level. At a societal level research participants spoke of the stigma, shame and isolation that families can encounter when a member is imprisoned. Families can experience reduced financial circumstances, stress and worry in relation to the person imprisoned and the impact of imprisonment on the family members. At a personal level research participants spoke of the challenges of raising children and running homes when their partners were imprisoned. Aligned to all of that are the challenges that come with visiting prison, including the cost of transport, care of children and not wanting to discuss some matters with the parent who is in prison so that they are not worried. The research also found that going to prison in some instances can provide a respite from the chaos of life and an opportunity for the prisoner to reflect on his/her life and engage with support services. The transition of a former prisoner back in to the family home or into society was also recognised as a vulnerable stage needing support not only for the prisoner but also for his/her family. The BRFP Model of Service delivery is described in detail in section 5. The underlying culture and ethos of the BRFP was described as deeply caring, respectful and non-judgemental. The investment by staff in building high quality relationships with the people who use the services of the BRFP was identified as the foundation stone. Fundamentally, the BRFP nurtured hope and a belief that all of us, irrespective of our particular circumstances, are capable of making positive changes in our lives.

This research offers two sets of recommendations, one from research participants and the second from ourselves. Some research participants were reticent at first to make recommendations, feeling that to do so would in some way be disrespectful to a service they cherish deeply. However, once they understood that the BRFP sought this advice they offered very insightful recommendations relating to improving services for children and adults along with practical suggestions for physical and promotional improvements. We endorsed their recommendations and presented a set of recommendations relating to improving and expanding services and the physical infrastructure, building staff capacity and skills and increasing the visibility of the BRFP.

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