For the past five years, the Maria Montessori Institute has been working with mothers and babies in Holloway prison and Bronzefield prison as well as with the pregnant women who may not be awarded a place in the mother and baby unit. 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. 

Born Inside is an initiative funded by the Maria Montessori Instituete and coordinated by MMI lecturer Beverley Maragh and psychotherapist Pamela Wyndham-Stewart. It aims to provide a parental support programme for the residents of HMP Bronzefield’s mother and baby unit.

It is a pilot project to show how Montessori techniques and training can be delivered to infants and mothers whilst they are held in detention. Born Inside encourages self-reliance and responsible parenting. Pamela and Beverley have been delivering weekly sessions designed to ensure that the vulnerable infants on the unit are given a developmentally sound start to life.

 The sessions take place in a specially created Montessori environment that enables appropriate physical, psychological and emotional care for the babies. The space is equipped with a movement area and simple, handmade, developmentally appropriate toys. Mirrors and balls are used to teach babies to move and explore, reading and singing is encouraged to help with verbal development.

By helping to effect these developments a strong maternal bond is forged. It is hoped that this will act as a strong incentive not to reoffend as the mothers will be reluctant to be separated from their children again. Armed with a healthier developmental start to life, their infants are less likely to engage in antisocial behaviour in the future. Born Inside has the potential to break intergenerational cycles of offending.

The overall aims:

  • 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:

  • 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.

Testimonies from some of the mothers: 

“If I had not been given a place on the Mother and Baby Unit and been able to have my son and see his first milestones and bond with him then, I would probably be very depressed and not care about going back out into society or committing another crime.”

“I feel a lot of guilt for having my son in this environment, but that is even more reason for me to never come back to prison and make sure I am a better role model and mother to my son for the rest of his life.”

“This is a perfect open forum, an opportunity to discuss any issues we have, whether as an individual or as a unit. This group allows us to talk in a comfortable, calm and relaxing place with the most amazing support from Pamela and Beverley. The depth and love and respect both Pamela and Beverley offer is second to none, such great and interesting role models which I feel bring a touch from life outside prison and normalcy which helps me and makes me look forward to the following sessions. Words cannot express my gratitude.” 

 

 

Photos

Location: 
London
United Kingdom

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