Charity Awards 2024

Storybook Dads

Strengthening ties between imprisoned parents and their children

Storybook Dads makes audio and video recordings of parents in prison reading bedtime stories out loud, and sends them to their children to watch or listen to whenever they want.

Storybook DadsApproximately 300,000 children are affected by the imprisonment of a parent each year in the UK, and many experience feelings of abandonment and shame, often leading to poor educational performance and increased risk of inter-generational offending. They are three times more prone to mental health problems than their peers.

Storybook Dads was set up in 2003 and won the Overall Award at the 2006 Charity Awards. At the time, it was delivering the project in 36 prisons at a cost of £87,000 a year, and had produced around 3,000 stories. It developed a process whereby other prisons could set up their own recording centre, and developed training packs. By 2006, 30 prisoners had learned audio editing skills.

Today, the charity operates in 100 prisons across England and Wales, including women’s prisons and young offenders’ institutions, and has recorded over 80,000 stories. The service cost £253,000 to run in 2023 and benefited more than 13,000 parents and children. More than 800 prisoners have received training in audio and video editing, and last year the charity was gifted a large building at its home base of HMP Dartmoor, so that it can expand its training provision.

Storybook Dads has assisted other charities to set up their own recording studios in other prisons and carries out the editing for them.

The charity has also introduced an “assisted read” service for prisoners who are illiterate, whereby another prisoner reads a phrase at a time which the prisoner repeats, and the first voice is edited out afterward. This has encouraged many to learn to read or improve their skills.

As well as the stories, Storybook Dads supports prisoners to make or decorate items such as reward charts, height charts, personalised comics or other gifts to send to their children.
Storybook Dads (and Mums) has hosted visits from organisations in other countries that have replicated the service themselves, and it has helped the Armed Forces to copy the model and launch Storybook Soldiers, Storybook Wings and Storybook Waves.

Moreover, 98% of families say that the disc or gift helped to improve the relationship between the parent and their children.

The Charity Awards judges rated the project for its innovation – being the first charity to do this, and going on to help others replicate it; its sustainability – having lasted 20 years already; its scalability – growing to 100 prisons; and its value for money – around £20 per beneficiary.

Anne Fox, CEO of Clinks, said the charity also has a programme helping illiterate Irish traveller communities to record their own original stories from in prison, rather than reading others’.

She said: “Storybook Dads are to be congratulated for their tenacity, their focus on children, and their ability to weather storms and continue to break down the many barriers they face in an extremely hostile and challenging political environment.”

Martin Edwards, CEO of Julia’s House, described the project as “simple, innovative, cost-effective – just superb”.

CC Reg no. 1101208