Whilst still in bed and coming round this morning, I caught the tail end of an item on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about mothers who are imprisoned and what happens to the children in such cases. I heard someone from the charity PACT, the Prison Advice and Care Trust saying that 'of course the Probation Service used to check up on things like that, but not since the creation of NOMS'. I'm not at all sure what this means because every agency, whether public or voluntary, has a duty of care towards children and probation Court Duty Officers will still routinely ask about children (and pets) when a person receives custody or is remanded for any reason.
However, circumstances sometimes prevent a post-custody interview at court before the person is shipped off to the nearest Local Prison's reception. It is true to say that there never has been a statutory system for investigating if a person who receives custody has any children for whom they are responsible. People are asked at various stages in the process, for instance on reception, but action is only taken by informing Social Services if they disclose information. As reported in the Guardian, PACT have prepared a report calling for 'A simple statutory system to track the whereabouts and welfare of such children.' I'm not at all sure how any statutory system of checking would work, or that it would be simple. I think it would be considerably bureaucratic and expensive for very little possible return beyond the ad-hoc system that operates at the present.
It strikes me as a potential nightmare along the lines of the Criminal Records Bureau and you will recall that the government eventually had to concede the futility of getting everyone to register, no matter what contact they had with children. Any comprehensive system would have to include all prisoners, not just females as some men will no doubt have child care responsibilities. Only the Police, Social Services and NSPCC have investigatory powers in relation to children and in the present spending climate piling yet another duty upon any of these agencies seems most unlikely. I think this has all the hallmarks of a slow news day story.