COPE policy developments for children affected by parental incarceration 2015

Categories: COPENews2015

The year 2016 promises excellent momentum, building on the successes of COPE and the work of its members in 2015 in advancing policy for children with imprisoned parents on national and international levels. Over the course of 2015, COPE’s action and the excellent advocacy work of its member organisations have contributed to an increased awareness of the vulnerable position of children of prisoners as well as several key policy developments. Below you will find a list of some of these key developments listed by country.


  • European Parliament: MEP Jean Lambert tabled a written question to the European Commission about children of prisoners and their rights; the question was drafted with the participation of COPE headquarters. This EU mechanism gets issues out into the public domain, ideal for dissemination.
  • European Commission: In her written response to Jean Lambert’s question, EU’s Human Rights Commissioner Vera Jourova made explicit mention of children of prisoners as a group of vulnerable children requiring support. She also highlighted the role of Children of Prisoners Europe, and the support that the EU has given our network, in 2013 and currently in 2015, through the attribution of Operating Grants.
  • Council of Europe: For the first time, thanks in part to COPE advocacy via network member Children’s Ombudsman’s Office Croatia and COPE headquarters, the Council of Europe has included children affected by parental incarceration in their Strategy for Child Rights 2016-2021 as a group of vulnerable, marginalised children.[1]


‘Children of incarcerated parents: developments in policy and practice’, Side event with panel discussion and good policy exchange : Attendees at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland. This event included a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and a member of the Committee of Experts, further strengthening relationships with these bodies.

Organized by COPE member Quaker United Nations Office 


  • Labour MSP Mary Fee launched a Bill to support children of prisoners in February 2015. Legislation to require a needs assessment to be carried out in relation to the children of a parent being sentenced by way of Child and Family Impact Assessments. It will also provide for additional learning support in school. The Bill suggests that parental imprisonment should be one of the triggers for considering whether a child needs additional learning support as it can often be a pre-cursor to other issues requiring support such as truancy, falling educational attainment and behavioural problems. Bill did not have enough time to complete the process for it to be heard in Parliament in September 2015 session. However, an amendment from Ms Fee to the (now) Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 places a duty on Scottish Ministers to request information from people entering prison about any dependent children, to ensure support for these children is in place. The Scottish Government has also committed to revise the code of conduct for the Additional Support for Learning Act to designate children with an imprisoned parent as a group in need of particular support.

COPE members Families Outside and Barnardo’s Scotland lobbied for this

  • The families of prisoners are to benefit from £1.8 million over the next three years for prison visitor centres.

The Scottish Government said the money would help vulnerable people affected by imprisonment access housing, health and welfare services. The centres also aim to cut re-offending by encouraging family contact.

COPE member Families Outside will be project managing this funding nationally on behalf of the Scottish Government


Children’s Ombudsman’s Office Croatia played a crucial role in lobbying the Council of Europe to ensure that they include children affected by parental incarceration in their Strategy for Child Rights 2016-2021 as a group of vulnerable, marginalised children.[2] The Ombudsman’s Office was successful in their efforts to expand the frame for children of prisoners—a first with respect to the Council of Europe’s Child Rights strategies.

COPE member Children’s Ombudsman’s Office Croatia

Progress in collaboration of Children’s Ombudsman with new stakeholders via NGO Status M to provide workshops on male parenting in prisons.

COPE member Children’s Ombudsman’s Office Croatia

Czech Republic

Progress is made in bringing together children placed in foster homes and orphanages to visit their parents in prison. The Czech Helsinki Committee enabled over forty children in care to meet with their mothers and fathers in prison in 2015. The aim is to support children in institutions to be in regular contact with their parents.

Outcome of advocacy and field work by COPE member Czech Helzinki Committee  


  • Coordinator for family orientation established for all prisons in Saxony
  • “Bindungsräume“ project in Cologne prisons (relationship rooms) resulting in improved visiting rooms
  • TAKT programme launched in Nuremberg area: sensitivity trainings for prison staff (prison officers and social workers), school environments (teachers and social workers). Teaching module on “children of prisoners” for classroom discussions. COPE member Treffpunkt
  • MuKi (Mother and Child) visits: accompanied visit to imprisoned mothers, even during pre-trial detention (new policy development since 2015).
  • Order of the Ministry of Justice Bavaria to offer a father-child group in every prison in Bavaria (order of 2013 – nearly fully implemented in 2015)

Outcome of advocacy work by COPE members BAG•S, Treffpunkt, Morning Tears


  • A national service in women’s prisons – Family Engagement Workers – working to support women, including mothers, and their children and families, in the early days of custody has been introduced in England. This work is to be studied by Cambridge University under the supervision of Beth Weaver, with a report due in September 2016.
  • Through ongoing advocacy with the courts, guidance for sentencers to encourage them to check the immediate care arrangements for dependent children at the point of  placing a parent/carer in custody has been re-issued to all the courts. PACT has led on this – and secured support of HM Courts and Ministry of Justice – and support from NSPCC and Barnardo’s.
  • In Wales, PACT has developed a joint strategy with public sector prisons called ‘Every Visit Counts’, in which prison visits are now framed as ‘interventions’ rather than an ancilliary service. PACT services in Wales now include Visitors Centres, Family Case Workers, parenting education programmes for young parents separated by prison, a ‘Baby group’ for young fathers, and therapeutic play sessions for young parents.
  • PACT secured funding to move forward the ‘Our Voice’ agenda (based on PACT’s Children’s Charter), with a project due to start in London in 2016. The project, called ‘Hear Our Voice’, will involve working with groups of young people to equip them with the skills and confidence to self-advocate, to build a new section of our website for young people, and to represent their needs and experiences and wishes to the police, courts and schools.
  • PACT facilitated meetings with Michael Palin and prisoners’ family members (including the wife of a prisoner, two children of prisoners, and four mothers of prisoners). Michael used this to inform himself in preparing for the Longford Lecture (November 2015), entitled ‘Collateral Damage’.  PACT was presented with the Longford Prize by the Secretary of State for Justice, for our work with and for prisoners’ families. The prize money is being used to sustain the peer support group established by the Prisoners Families and Friends Service, a smaller independent charity in London which PACT rescued from closure and has taken into management.

Advocacy work by COPE member PACT

  • RR3 (Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group). Strategic national voluntary sector forum on reducing reoffending, attended by UK Ministers and a voice straight into national policy via the third sector.
  • Strategic forum with policy focus in light of “DEVO Manc”, the planned devolution of powers to local authorities (April 2016) whereby councils across Greater Manchester will gain control of their NHS and social care budget.
  • Collaborated with Prison Reform Trust on report Relative Justice. The experiences and views of family members of people with particular needs in contact with criminal justice and liaison and diversion services.
  • Collective voice. National Offenders Family policy forum led by CLINKS. Offering a community/CJS perspective

Advocacy work by COPE member POPS

  • Prison Family Support Alliance (PACT, POPS, Nepacs, Jigsaw) – 4 charities/NGOS – are continuing to share expertise to develop and deliver best practice.

Advocacy work by COPE members PACT and POPS 

Northern Ireland

  • NISRA research shows that NIACRO project to support resettlement reduced reoffending by up to 24%

  • NIACRO gave written and oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Justice on the draft Justice Bill, including presenting the case for families and children to be considered as indirect victims of crime and for child impact statements to be introduced.
  • NIACRO presented at a conference in Cork entitled ‘Changing Mindsets, Changing Minds: Conference on the Rights of Children of Offenders’, highlighting NIACRO’s work to support children and families of prisoners in Northern Ireland through our project ‘Family Links’.
  • NIACRO organized a Justice Series seminar in Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings with guest speaker Andy Keen Downs, CEO of PACT. Andy discussed the introduction of the ‘Our Voice’ children’s charter as well as PACT’s ‘Left Behind’ campaign and encouraged the audience of politicians, policy makers and voluntary sector representatives to see what parental imprisonment is like through a child’s eyes.
  • NIACRO News included a feature on our work to support the families of people in prison, and also included a guest paper from COPE President Lucy Gampell OBE entitled ‘Children affected by Parental Imprisonment: Needs, Solutions and Rights – the Evidence from across Europe’
  • NIACRO presented at a seminar at the University of Ulster entitled ‘Meeting the Needs of Prisoners’ Families: the role of the non-governmental sector’

COPE member NIACRO advocacy work

  • Skype initiative launched at Magilligan Prison for families and prisoners to maintain contact, a first in UK.


  • A major policy development is the focus of the Irish Prison Service in general on parenting initiatives that have as their aim the long term well-being of children affected by imprisonment. This policy development process is linked largely to the impetus of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. In addition, children of prisoners are explicitly mentioned in Ireland’s National Children’s Strategy.

COPE member Irish Penal Reform Trust key in lobbying

  • Bedford Row in Limerick have been highly involved in the implementation of the Irish Prison Service’s new focus on children of prisoners, and pilot projects are currently being implemented in Limerick Prison. There are 13 prisons in Ireland. A parenting course was run by Bedford Row in 2015 in parallel to a course run with prisoners on the inside.  Male prisoners are scattered to different prisons for different reasons; women scome to Bedford Row for support as part of the NGO’s ongoing Lifeskills Group. A second parenting course was launched in late 2015. The primary focus of the women whose partners are in prison is the relationship; the men frequently opt for ‘skills’ e.g., learning to engage and play with children etc.  Bedford Row aims to build on this in 2016  and have requested additional funding from the Irish Prison Service. 
  • Bedford Row also work closely with Limerick Women’s Prison—with the overall aim of maintaining the contact between the very vulnerable women and their children who might be in care of the state or in relative care.  In Ireland, while male prisoners’ children are usually minded by the woman on the outside the same is not true for the women. Children are usually placed in care.  Contact reflects this as well: while women tend to bring male prisoners’ children to visit them on a regular basis, men rarely if ever bring female prisoners’ children to visit them.
  • Children’s Groups are run throughout the year (26 children in the Groups). A Bedford Row Play Therapist works with another approximately 24 children throughout the year.

Advocacy and support work by COPE member Bedford Row


  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The Charter of Imprisoned Parents’ Children formally acknowledges that these minors have a right to an emotional and continuing bond with their imprisoned parent and reaffirms that the latter has a right to play his/her parental role. •Rome, 21st March 2014: signature of MOU by the Italian Minister of Justice, the National Ombudsman for children and adolescence and Bambinisenzasbarre. MOU in its entirety is a revolutionary document which commits the penitentiary system to transform the relational and care aspects of prisoners, taking their parental role into consideration, and to change its welcoming culture, being aware of the presence of the minor who is blameless and free, but crushed by the social burden that a parent’s detention implies. The MOU is an important message for civil society, it is a request for a change of attitude, of a point of view that must be on the side of children, not on the side of imprisoned parents and their legal obligations; at the same time it is a strong call for the necessity to start a process of social integration and, more generally, of a deeper cultural change towards the most vulnerable party: the child. In the best interest of the child and according to the scope of the responsible bodies, eight articles determine:

-Art.1: decisions and practices concerning judicial orders, judgments and sentences,

-Art.2: minors’ visits to prisons,

-Art.3: other types of relationships with the imprisoned parent,

-Art.4: the training of Penitentiary Administration staff and Juvenile Justice operators,

-Art.5: information, assistance and instruction for minor children of imprisoned parents,

-Art.6: the collection of data supplying information on imprisoned parents’ children, in order to improve reception and visits to prisons,

-Art.7: children’s stay in prison, in exceptional cases, if it is impossible to provide for the parent measures alternative to detention. All the articles of this Memorandum of Understanding are not only meant for minors visiting detention Centers but also for children of parents who are detained in juvenile penal Institutes,

-Art.8: establishment of a permanent Working Table, constituted by representatives of the three undersigning parties, which will periodically monitor the implementing of the points set out in the Charter, which favours and promotes the cooperation of institutional and non-institutional agencies and encourages the exchange of good practices on the national and international level.

Since the MOU’s signature in 2014, Bambinsenzasbarre has been lobbying for policy changes with respect to judges, sentencers, and the courts, and met with the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella.

Outcome stemming from advocacy work by COPE member Bambinisenzasbarre

  • Renovation of Spazio Giallo for waiting rooms in three main Italian prisons: Napoli Secondigliano, Milano Opera, Milano San Vittore. Based on C. Burdese’s “modular structure layout” (designer of ICAM – the attenuated prison for mother with children Institute, in Turin). Inside this structure everything is children-size and at full disposal of children visiting the prisons: painting tables, toys containers, book shelves, panels on which display childrens’ paintings, and so on. All these elements are thought to be used primely by children, offering them a place inspiring creativity and imaginary ideas. At the same time, the Yellow Space is where adults direct a greater attention to children and their needs.

Outcome stemming from advocacy work by COPE member Bambinisenzasbarre


  • Dutch MEP Marith Rebel agrees to take issue of children of prisoners forward; Children’s Ombudsperson of the Netherlands underscores the importance of the topic and pledges to adapt Bambinisenzasbarre’s Memorandum of Understanding (see above) to the Dutch context.

  • In Hollands Midden, near Leiden, a new pilot in conjunction with Alphen aan de Rijn and Zoetermeer prisons to develop an outreach program for families of fathers in prison to offer support initiatives.
  • Kick-off for pilot initiative in January 2016 for a family approach to imprisonment at the Prison of Leeuwarden.  Inspiration drawn from Invisible Walls of Wales, which presented at the COPE European conference in Stockholm 2015. Steering group set up. Schools will be a key focus.

All initiatives outgrowth of advocacy work by COPE member Exodus.


  • Child Talk program implemented in Swedish prisons: COPE NGO meets with all imprisoned parents at the onset of their sentence to discuss children. The program is mandatory.

Initiative developed and implemented by COPE member BUFFF

  • Recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) session in January 2015 concerned children of imprisoned parents in both Switzerland and Sweden, highlighting the need for facilitation of contact, upholding the principle of closeness, data collection and for protecting the best interests of the child.

COPE member BUFFF contributed to input to UNCRC

  • The correctional services in the region of Gothenburg have established a minimum-level of child rights standards to be respected during probation, custody and execution of the prison sentence for the region. Standards focus on general knowledge about child rights, discussions about parenthood, procedures for notifying social services, and the preparation and implementation of prison visits for children. The standards build on a two-year project operated by Solrosen related to children living with imprisoned mothers; children visiting a parent in prison; and parenting in prison. The project ended December 2014.

Policy outcome linked to programmatic initiative and advocacy by COPE member Solrosen


Recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child session in January 2015 concerned

children of imprisoned parents in both Switzerland, highlighting the need for facilitation of contact, upholding the principle of closeness, data collection and for protecting the best interests of the child.

COPE member Relais Enfants Parents Romands contributed to input to UNCRC

United States

  • Policy and Procedural Training for Prison Officers (78) and Department of Education Counselors (150). Policy focus on impact of incarceration on children as evidence by request for the expansion of the program to an additional 10 correctional facilities and decision to have an annual COI training for all Miami-Dade Department of Education guidance counselors
  • Super Hero’s Legislative Awareness Event – Secretary of Department of Florida Corrections (25 corrections staff, 15 legislators, 25 staff, 20 volunteers). Policy focus on impact of incarceration on children as evidence by the provision of $350,000 to the Network; six legislators posted Children of Inmates information on the walls of their offices.
  • Department of Children and Families Annual Conference for Child Welfare and Social Services Agencies Staff. Increased awareness of impact of incarceration on children as evidence by request for day-long training for DCF staff in Miami Dade and in Jacksonsville offices.  Request for training for all judicial staff in Broward County.
  • TV News Coverage of “Be An American” Bonding Visits – new stories in every media outlet in State of Florida – total of 10 new stories ( see for stories). Viewership exposure to general public of over 4 million + Plus readership of National Newspaper – USA Today. Increased awareness of impact of incarceration on children as evidence by TV station and News coverage for every bonding visit during the summer and USA Today reprinting the Story of one of the bonding Visits.

July 15, 2015. Prisoners reunite with loved ones for one afternoon. (Miami Herald)

July 15, 2015. Children visit parents in prison. (NBC 6, Miami)

July 15, 2015.  South Florida kids reunite with fathers in prison. (CBS 4, Miami)

July 17, 2015. Program sponsors visit for families of inmates at Charlotte Co. prison. (Wink News CBS)

July, 17, 2015. Fathers, children reunited at Charlotte County prison. (NBC 2, Fort Myers) 

July 22, 2015. Prisoner fathers reunite with their children. (Miami Times)

1) Tallahassee Democrat:

2) Tallahassee Local 8:


Outcome of advocacy work carried out by COPE member Services for Children of Inmates (Florida) 

[1] Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child 2016 – 2021

4th draft, 29 October 2015

  1. A large number of children across Europe feel excluded and identify discrimination as a key rights issue to be dealt with. Not being able to enjoy education, play and share leisure time with others, or being bullied because of one’s ethnic origin, sexual orientation or other status, are all marking experiences for children that leave traces throughout their lives. From a human rights perspective, the quality of a society is measured by how it is treating its most vulnerable and marginalised groups. These include several groups of children, such as children with disabilities, children without parental care, children from minorities including Roma children, children on the move or otherwise affected by migration, children deprived of liberty, children living and/or working on the streets and children of imprisoned parents.
  1. Under the UNCRC, deprivation of liberty must be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Council of Europe Member States will be supported in avoiding and preventing deprivation of liberty and criminalization of children through measures such as extension of diversion and preparation for reintegration. Material conditions and detention regimes should be improved in line with Council of Europe standards. Support will be provided to member States in implementing the European Rules for juvenile offenders subject to sanctions or measures. The Council of Europe will promote the implementation of the Standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) regarding the protection of children deprived of liberty from ill-treatment and violence, follow-up to the recommendations of the report on violence in institutions for juvenile offenders, and develop practical guidance for monitoring places of deprivation of liberty for children. It will consider addressing the situation of children whose parents are detained. The Council of Europe is ready to support, as appropriate and within its mandate, the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, notably as far as the European region is concerned.

[2] For more information, see note 1.

Author: COPE News