2015 marks the 10th year of working with children and families affected by imprisoned for the Finnish organisation KRITS. KRITS, an affiliate of the COPE network, supports families affected by imprisonment through their ‘Child and Family Work’ programme, which has been running since 2005 with the support of the Ombudsman’s Office for Offenders.
The ‘Child and Family Work’ programme includes supporting families of prisoners, training professionals who work with children and families affected and piloting a model for open peer support for children affected by parental imprisonment.
To mark the 10th year anniversary, KRITS organised a seminar entitled “10 years with a heart”, where important issues were raised concerning the organisation’s target groups. Several speakers were invited, including a couple the husband of which was serving a life sentence; a woman who had experienced her father’s imprisonment as a child; a mother whose son is currently in prison; a grandmother whose daughter is in prison and who is therefore the primary caregiver for her grandchildren. The Ombudsman for Children in Finland also gave an important and influential speech at this event.
This Spring, a peer group for children experiencing the imprisonment of a loved one was set up. Another peer group will start again in October. This year, KRITS has been able to meet with the parents of the children participating in the group. The organisation is able to provide information about the children’s activities within the group and parents have an opportunity to talk about their situations not only with a professional but also with other parents in a similar situation.
KRITS also organised two camps for prisoners and their families, and two more are scheduled for September and December 2015. These camps focus on supporting parents and the bonds between imprisoned family members and their families outside. KRITS also set up a pilot project with Bufff Stockholm (then Bryggan) which provided an online platform for young people affected by the imprisonment of a loved one.
KRITS’ network of professionals working with families affected by imprisonment also held a seminar in Spring 2015. The topic of this seminar was the interaction between security, children and families within the prison system. The next meeting is to take place in November.
KRITS has also provided opportunities for other professionals to familiarise themselves with their field of expertise. They organised four “Open House” events where professionals could find out more about the issues and discuss how they interact with children and families of prisoners in their work. These events have been very successful.
Ombudsman’s Office for Offenders
KRITS also provides an Ombudsman’s Office for Offenders, which offers legal advice, help and support to offenders and their families facing difficulties in obtaining State services or benefits. Family-related issues are often related to difficulties when visiting or organising a visit of a family member in prison. They were also contacted this year by some couples expecting a child where the mother or father was awaiting a criminal sentence. Concerns raised in this case include whether or not the imprisoned father can attend the child’s birth or see the newborn baby, or when they can visit.
The Ombudsman’s Office along with KRITS Child and Family Work, the Criminal Sanctions Agency and Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences are organising a seminar on a child-oriented approach in criminal sanctions to be held in November of this year.
The office has also been working to influence legislation which might affect children with imprisoned parents. A new Social Welfare Act came into effect in April 2015. This Act includes new opportunities for families of prisoners to receive help at home during the imprisonment of their family member. The Imprisonment Act was also updated recently and came into effect in May 2015. It also provides new opportunities for families of prisoners, which should make it easier for a couple who has not lived together before the sentence to obtain the rights to a family visit, especially if they have children. Video contact can be made available for prisoners whose family lives abroad or a significant distance from the prison. The Office provides information about both laws to prisoners, to their families and to the professionals working with them.
The Ombudsman’s Office and KRITS Child and Family Work recently visited a police station to discuss the situation of families and children of remand prisoners in police custody. A publication created for the families as well as for offenders was distributed to some police and prison libraries.
For more information, visit: www.krits.fi