Children with parents in prison 'the forgotten victims of crime'

Children with parents in prison 'the forgotten victims of crime'

There is limited national recognition of the rights of children with a family member in prison. File picture

Children who have parents in prison are often the forgotten victims of crime, according to the children's ombudsman.

The message came at the launch of a report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), titled Piecing It Together: Supporting Children and Families with a Family Member in Prison in Ireland.

This report was launched by Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon and highlights what the IPRT says are “significant gaps” in policy — which mean opportunities to safeguard the rights of children and families with a family member in prison are being missed.

The report found:

  • There is limited national recognition of the rights of children with a family member in prison;
  • There is a continued lack of any national support services for these children;
  • Visiting conditions are not child-friendly;
  • There is limited data and research on, and a stigmatisation of, these children and their families.

During the launch, a letter written by a young person who has experienced visiting a family member in prison was read out to attendees.

Aoife (not her real name) writes of her past and present experience of visiting her father and uncle in prison.

Aoife talks about her fear of the sniffer dogs, missed Christmases with her father, and putting on a brave face as to not upset her mother.

She also calls for a number of changes she would like to see implemented in prisons.

“If I were to change anything about the prisons for people like me and my little sister, I’d make sure they all had the playgrounds, playrooms, and family days where you can touch each other,” Aoife said.

Around 10,000 children a year experience the imprisonment of a parent.

“Children with parents in prison are often the forgotten victims of crime and it is important for me, as ombudsman for children, to remind our State and our society that they need to be supported,” said Dr Muldoon.

“Prisoner’s children are the invisible victims of crime and, while they have done nothing wrong, the emotional, practical, and psychological impact of having a mother or father in prison can be profound. 

"We need to look at what we can do to make both the justice system and the prison system more child-centred."

IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide: 'It can have negative impacts on a child’s health, education, and wellbeing.' File picture: Derek Speirs
IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide: 'It can have negative impacts on a child’s health, education, and wellbeing.' File picture: Derek Speirs

IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide also spoke at the event, commenting that when society, through the courts, puts a parent in prison, this has a massive impact on their family.

“It can have negative impacts on a child’s health, education, and wellbeing," she said. 

"We need departments and their agencies to step up and join the dots to stop these children from falling through the cracks. 

"We can no longer continue with the mindset that these children are ‘someone else’s responsibility,” she said.

For some of these children, the imprisonment of a parent is just one of the multiple adversities they are facing in their lives.

On the ongoing impact of Covid-19, Ms Ní Chinnéide said: “All children have the right under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to maintain contact with their mothers or fathers, and this cannot be taken away because of the actions of their parent. 

"In normal times, separation from an imprisoned parent is an identified trauma experienced by children and the last year has seen this trauma multiplied. Many of these children have not had any physical contact at all with their parent since early March 2020. Families are telling us that they are losing hope and connection."

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