On the 20th May, COPE co-hosted its annual conference with the Ombudsman for Children Croatia, at the Old Town Hall, Zagreb, entitled Children with a Parent in Conflict With the Law: What are their best interests? How can they be met? Over 200 delegates attended the conference, which began with an introduction from the Ombudswoman for Children, Ivana Milas Klaric, and an opening address from COPE founding member and former president Alain Bouregba on what constitutes the best interests of the child and the need for the “tailor made” over a “one size fits all” approach.
This was followed by a lively discussion from the Croatian National Debate Team that pitted the best interests of the child against the need for security in the criminal justice system, drawing out the key themes of children’s rights and further developing the idea of “the best interests of the child”, topics that would remain central to discussion throughout the day.
The morning session featured speakers from a range of key international organisations, including Renate Winter of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Margaret Tuite, Child Rights Coordinator for the European Commission, Valentia Otmačić of UNICEF Croatia, and Croatian MEP Tonino Picula.
Tonino Picula, Croatian member of the European Parliament on recognising the rights of #childrenofprisonerspic.twitter.com/42UoSNV78l
Also presenting at the conference was Bruna Profaca from the Child Protection Center of Zagreb, who highlighted the importance of how support is given to children of prisoners and how maintaining the child-parent bond and quality child care are important protective factors for the child, and Igor Kanižaj of the Faculty of Political Sciences from the University of Zagreb, who shone a spotlight on the damage that can be done to children of prisoners by the media but also their potential as a tool to help raise awareness for the issues facing children of prisoners.
The conference also provided an important platform for NGOs to share examples of their own work and best practices with an international audience. Croatian NGO Project M discussed their work in targeting negative discourses on masculinity in Croatia as well as sensitising young men and prisoners to the responsibilities of fatherhood; Croatian NGO RODA discussed their important work supporting imprisoned mothers in Požega prison; and PACT presented on the pressures facing the criminal justice system in the UK and the role children of prisoners and prisoners’ families can play in aiding resettlement and reintegration after release, as well as highlighting their new “Hear Our Voice” project that will see training delivered across 100 schools in London.
Pact UK will deliver training to 100 London schools on children of prisoners. Excellent. @networkcope
Showcasing good practice at the COPE / Ombudsman for Children conference on #childsbestinterest @udrugarodapic.twitter.com/SbWLIBslUV
The afternoon finished with a panel discussion chaired by Rachel Brett, formerly of the Quaker United Nations Office, that shifted the focus on to what was next for children of prisoners and what steps were are necessary now to tackle the issue in future.