Mentoring scheme for parents of young offenders to be expanded

Independent review of Oberstown Le Chéile programme provides a ‘lifeline’ to parents

At least one-third of Oberstown detainees have lost one or both parents through separation or death, according to official figures. File photograph: Getty

At least one-third of Oberstown detainees have lost one or both parents through separation or death, according to official figures. File photograph: Getty

 

A ground-breaking mentoring programme for parents of children in custody is to be extended following a review of its operations.

The youth justice charity Le Chéile has been offering a mentoring service to parents of children in Oberstown, the State’s only child detention facility, for the last two years as part of a pilot programme. It is the only programme of its kind in the world, organisers believe.

A recently completed independent review of the programme found it offered “a lifeline” to parents and gave them a sense of hope and emotional wellbeing.

Mentoring sessions, which take place weekly, give parents of child offenders “a listening ear” and help them reduce conflict in the home, said Le Chéile chief executive Anne Conroy.

“Most of these parents are under a great deal of pressure. As you can imagine, if your child is in Oberstown things have gone awry. It’s really about allowing some time to the parent to build their confidence, to help them with some parenting skills and to provide support for the parents when their child is discharged from Oberstown.”

Parents are referred to the programme by social workers on a case-by-case basis. But following the review’s recommendations, Le Chéile now plan to offer it by default to every parent with a child in Oberstown.

Parents of children in Oberstown are mostly single mothers from poor socio-economic backgrounds, said Ms Conroy.

“The review found all the mothers were very concerned with the welfare of their sons. But they found it very difficult to meet their needs while coping with other young children at home,” she added.

She said detention can strain the relationships between parents and children, particularly for parents from outside Dublin who find it more difficult to visit.

“We’ve had situations where parents weren’t attending meetings or visits but, with the support of their mentor, they attended for the first time.”

Boys in detention also expressed relief that their mothers were getting some support at home, noted the review.

‘Awful lot of shame’

Oberstown holds 50 young people, all male. About half are serving sentences and half are on remand awaiting trial or sentence. At least a third of detainees have lost one or both parents through separation or death, according to official figures.

“There is an awful lot of shame and embarrassment around having a child in trouble with the gardaí,” said Marianne Scanlan, one of Le Chéile’s 250 volunteers who work with young people and parents around the country. “There’s a feeling of ‘where did I go wrong? How did I fail as a parent?’ ”

Mentoring sessions offer a secure space where parents can open up and “say whatever they feel like without being judged”, she said.

Le Chéile is seeking new volunteers to take part in its parent and youth programmes. Ms Conroy said applications from men are particularly welcome as volunteers are 70 per cent female.

All training and Garda vetting is provided by Le Chéile, she added.