27,000 children in Scotland are given new rights
Families Outside, the only national charity in Scotland to support families and children affected by imprisonment, are delighted to welcome the Council of Europe’s new guidelines that will protect children with imprisoned parents.
According to Scottish Government figures, 20 – 27,000 children in Scotland each year have a parent in prison – approximately twice as many as are affected by divorce.
Research shows that these children experience trauma, stigma, anxiety, and are three times more likely to engage in anti-social or offending behaviour than children without imprisoned parents.
One of the most comprehensive studies on children of prisoners, undertaken across four European countries, found that regular contact with parents is crucial in maintaining children’s emotional wellbeing and capacity for resilience.
In response, the Council of Europe has issued new guidelines that will ensure that children with imprisoned parents are entitled to the same rights as other children, including regular contact with their parents, as long as it is in the child´s best interests.
Maintaining contact with a parent in prison doesn’t only have positive impacts for the child: research also shows that prisoners who maintain contact with their families are up to 6 times less likely to reoffend. There are, therefore, huge potential benefits for the Scottish economy and society as a whole as the prison population is likely decrease.
Prof. Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, said, “We need to remember that children and families affected by imprisonment are innocent; they have not committed any crimes but are often penalised by association. They face significantly traumatic experiences including, in many cases, actually witnessing the arrest of their parent in their home environment. These types of experiences can lead to significant Adverse Childhood Experiences that affect them throughout their adult lives and often cause long-term physical and mental illness. Thankfully the Council’s guidelines encourage the police to avoid the arrest of parents in the presence of children or, if this is unavoidable, that this is carried out in a child-sensitive way.”
Prof. Loucks particularly welcomes the Council’s recommendation to minimise the impact of a parent´s imprisonment on children by encouraging legal and prison authorities to consider more home leave, open prisons, and electronic monitoring, which can also to ease transition from prison to liberty.
Families Outside already oversees Prison Visitor Centres across Scotland, working with charity partners to improve the visitor experience, and is pleased to see that the Council recommends that children should be allowed to visit their imprisoned parent within a week following the arrest, and then on a regular basis, without interfering with the child´s life, such as school attendance. The Council also reiterates that searches on children should be done in a child-sensitive manner, and that staff in contact with children should receive special training – a service that Families Outside already provides.
“Last year we trained more than 3,000 individuals including prison, police, and teaching staff,” said Prof Loucks, “We hope that, with these new guidelines, our training will have an even greater impact.”
The recommendation encourages member states to support imprisoned parents who wish to do so to participate effectively in the parenting of their children, including via communication with school, health, and welfare services.
With regard to staff, prisons should select and appoint officers specialised in dealing with children and their imprisoned parents to provide guidance and information, in particular to children newly confronted with the prison environment – something that could build on the work of Family Contact Officers in the Scottish Prison Service.
Finally, the recommendation advises states to ensure that the competent ministries, children´s ombudspersons, or other bodies monitor respect for the rights and interests of children with imprisoned parents.
For more information on the recommendations, please visit https://search.coe.int/directorate_of_communications/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016807b339d.
For more information on Families Outside, please visit www.familiesoutside.org.uk
Notes to Editors:
- Families Outside is a national Scottish charity and the only organisation in Scotland to work exclusively on behalf of families affected by imprisonment.
- They provide direct support to families through their Helpline and Regional Family Support Coordinators
- They provide tools and training to professionals that come into contact with families and children affected by imprisonment including: police, prison staff, teachers, heath care professionals, social workers etc
- They lobby policy and decision makers to raise awareness of the issues that families face and influence government to make positive changes
- More information is available at www.familiesoutside.org.uk
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