The Republic of Latvia Ombudsman began research in 2014 on the rights of children to contact with their imprisoned parents and in it attention to the provision of the rights of children of imprisoned parents was addressed for the first time in Latvia.
Until now, children who have parents in prison were not viewed as a vulnerable group in Latvia. These children have previously been difficult to classify as a separate group of people due in part to the lack of data available on their number or their situation. As a result of this, there is a lack of understanding on the specific needs and rights of children of imprisoned parents. However, research shows that there are many problems faced by this category of children, and one problem in particular is the restriction imposed on children’s and parents’ access rights.
In 2014, in collaboration with the Latvian Prison Administration, a study on the situation of prisoners and their children was performed. An in-depth inquiry in all prisons of the Republic of Latvia was initiated and the issues discussed included: the number of children each imprisoned person has; their relationships; children’s cognizance of parental imprisonment; methods of contact; conditions of the prison meeting rooms; and prison officers’ attitudes towards the children.
The study has highlighted a number of problems that fully or partially prevent children and imprisoned parents exercising their access rights. These problems include: a lack of understanding on the need to disclose the truth to children; unjustifiably short telephone calls; restrictions imposed on children by mothers, guardians, or foster families that prevent contact with the imprisoned parent; poor conditions in prison meeting rooms with no child-friendly facilities; and a lack of any social and financial support from the state and local governments.
The study has also highlighted that many imprisoned parents have limited knowledge of how to contact their children or of the importance of contact in building positive relationships. Therefore, the Republic of Latvia Ombudsman, in cooperation with a family psychotherapist, is producing an educational leaflet for parents entitled, “How one small telephone call can do a great job”. A further study was also initiated this year in order to understand the reasons for guardians and foster families imposing restrictions on children contacting their imprisoned parent.
There is still much work to be done in this area and the Republic of Latvia Ombudsman will continue to work towards the improvement and respect of the rights of children, in particular their right to contact with their imprisoned parents. In order to do so, amendments to the law, promotion of good practice in local government, educational campaigns in prisons, and awareness raising in society are needed.
Legal adviser of the Children rights division
Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Latvia