At the end of May, Children of Prisoners Europe co-organised an international conference in Stockholm with Swedish network member Bufff (formerly Bryggan). The conference focused on the rights of children separated from a parent in prison. A very diverse and interesting set of speakers approached the topic from a variety of angles and the talks culminated in an engaging panel discussion led by Lucy Gampell (COPE president) and Madelein Löfgren (director of Bufff Stockholm).
“the constraints of the prison system
should in no way detract from the
rights of the child whose parent is imprisoned”
Keynote speaker and special guest, Her Excellency, Ms Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, opened discussions by highlighting the importance of child-parent contact in protecting the well-being of children of imprisoned parents. Her Excellency also made an important point that was reiterated throughout the day, that “the constraints of the prison system should in no way detract from the rights of the child whose parent is imprisoned”.
Other topics that were tackled throughout the course of the day were the consistent lack of information or adapted information available to children of imprisoned parents; the importance of putting the child and his or her well-being at the centre of all that we do and advocate for; the need to work with schools and in communities, to reach out to children with imprisoned parents in those places where they spend the majority of their time.
Dalia Wexler, psychologist at Relais Enfants Parents Asbl in Belgium reminded us of the ethical challenges associated with supporting children with imprisoned parents, and the need to support a child as he or she is and not as he or she should be. We were also reminded of the fact that we cannot and must not try to change a difficult parent, but that we must support a child in his or her reaction to the experience of having a difficult parent.
Corin Morgan-Armstrong, Head of Family Interventions at HMP Parc in Wales provided the delegates with some alarming statistics which were all too recognisable by those present as being similar in many other European countries. Among the figures highlighted, was the fact that 43% of prisoners in England and Wales lose all contact with their children upon imprisonment. It was demonstrated that engaging prisoners and their families and maintaining those vital family bonds is the best resettlement programme available.
“We have a responsibility to listen to the
children and to respond to what they think they need;
to support them in fulfilling their potential.”
Madelein Löfgren of host organisation Bufff underlined the importance of early intervention and, particularly, of providing information to parents as soon as possible after the arrest in order to strengthen the child’s ability to cope with the situation.
The conference was concluded with a thought-provoking panel discussion “UNCRC becomes national law: what will change? Who is responsible?” consisting of Professor in Criminology Jerzy Sarnecki, Minister of Social Affairs, Åsa Regnér and General Director of the Prison and Probation Service, Nils Öberg. In pledging her support for this group of vulnerable, high risk children, Ms Regnér highlighted the importance of engagement on the international level to provide for children of prisoners. When Swedish organisation Bufff questioned why Sweden focuses on the children of abusive parents, of alcoholic parents, of parents with mental health issues and yet overlooks children with imprisoned parents, Ms Regnér agreed this was something to be looked into and suggested a follow-up meeting with the NGO. Please see below for copies of the PowerPoint presentations.
The next annual COPE network conference will be held in Croatia in late May 2016. Check back on our website for more details soon.
Supporting children with imprisoned parents and their families: Rights, opportunities and responsibilities
Links to presentations:
Martina Blombergsson (Ombudsoffice for Children, Sweden): The right to be heard
Dalia Weiler (Relais Enfants-Parents, Belgium): Child rights: Challenges and choices
Lia Sacerdote (Bambinisenzasbarre, Italy): The Italian charter for children with imprisoned parents (Memorandum of Understanding)
Corin Morgan-Armstrong (Family Interventions, HMP Parc, Wales): Family Interventions and Invisible Walls Wales
Karoliina Tauruvouri (Prison and Probation Service, Finland): The “Let’s talk about children” model
Madelein Löfgren (Bufff Stockholm, Sweden): Supporting children of prisoners through education