Approximately two babies per week are “born inside” into a prison system in the United Kingdom, that has a total of around 80 mother and baby places available. Of the seven Women’s prisons which have mother and baby units, two can care for children up to 18 months old and the remaining five can only care for children up to 9 months. For the past five years, the Maria Montessori Institute has worked with mothers and babies in Holloway prison and Bronzefield prison and also with the pregnant women in these prisons who may not be awarded a place in the mother and baby unit.
The overall aims of this programme are:
- To empower mothers through an exchange of ideas based on Montessori philosophy and current research to bond with their children and enable the development of their children.
- To empower mothers through an exchange of Montessori ideas in the basic skills of motherhood.
- To provide a place to come together within the prison for the mothers and babies with a wider community purpose.
- To provide an environment that supports the appropriate physical, psychological and emotional care for the children and their mothers.
- To impart knowledge in respect of the making of developmentally supportive Montessori educational materials for little or no cost.
- Ultimately to establish similar projects in other detention environments
The use of the Montessori approach for mothers and babies in detention:
- Talk about the importance of movement that still allows them to follow the prison rules.
- Encourage the mothers to lay the baby on their tummy once they are awake.
- Allow the child the space to move on the floor.
- Look at simple toys which can be made and are small enough for a baby’s hand.
- Look at the clothing that allows movement.
- Not put babies into shoes unless they are walking.
- Encouraging mothers to talk directly to their babies and use the correct pronunciation of their words.
- For some mothers to speak in their mother tongue first and why this is important.
- Explain the importance of reading to babies.
- Cut down on the amount of television time.
Some of the challenges:
- A quiet baby is a good baby (babies are placed within a bouncer, a stroller or play pen, which creates a non moving prison for the babies all of their own)
- The mothers must use their buggies to transport the babies from A to B. This is the case even for the walking babies.
- Some babies are often sent home to bond with other family members and siblings, this can cause disorientation for both the baby -because they become unsettled on return- and for the mother because they choose to stop breastfeeding and find the baby unsettled.
- The babies are often dressed in ways that limit their movement, for example they are wearing shoes.