26th July 2013

A contribution from Kate Philbrick on her participation in the panel discussion at Strathclyde University in Glasgow organised by the Centre for Law, Crime, and Justice on the definition of ‘primary consideration’ and what it means for children of prisoners.

When a parent is imprisoned, what is the impact on the child?

As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK is committed to taking the best interest of children into account as a “primary consideration” for any decision that affects them.

But what exactly does and should “primary consideration” mean? How can and should parental imprisonment be managed so as to minimise the impact on the child? How should the impact on a child be assessed and weigh in the balance in the remand and sentencing decision-making process?

As a representative of Eurochips, I was honoured to be included in the panel discussion described above which took place in Strathclyde University in Glasgow organised by the Centre for Law, Crime, and Justice. The panel was led by Justice Albie Sachs, a wise, humble and eloquent man, a founder member of the South African Constitutional Court who, in the landmark S v M case, ruled that all judges must take the likely impact on children into account when a parent faces imprisonment.

The Scottish Children’s Commissioner followed with comments rooted in Glasgow realities and humour, pointing out that, for so many children of prisoners, poverty is a major issue. He also highlighted the need for realistic risk assessments, because some contact between children and their imprisoned parents may not benefit the children.

Sarah Roberts, from Families Outside, spoke from the heart about the reality of difficulties children face, reading her moving upside-down poem which shows we can see children of prisoners as children of promise. My contribution was the final one, giving the COPING results and the European context for this consideration of child impact assessments, as well as highlighting some of the issues we at Eurochips have considered, such as the secrets children keep and the secrets we have kept from them.

It was a hugely stimulating evening, has put children of prisoners on the agenda among lawyers, judges and others here in Scotland. Better still, follow-up work is planned to see how child impact assessments can realistically be introduced in Scotland.

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Author: rmchristen