Pan-European conference

Final conference marks the end of the COPING research project

Final conference marks the end of the COPING research project

Coping with a Parent in Prison: An Agenda for Policy Reform

6 November 2012 – Brussels

On any given day, an estimated 800,000 children have a parent in prison in the European Union[1]. Although their rights to family life and welfare are enshrined in international conventions, policies and support initiatives are not keeping pace. The COPING project (Children of Prisoners, Interventions and Mitigations to Strengthen Mental Health), a landmark FP7 Framework-funded study providing scientific data on children with imprisoned parents on a scale not seen before, took the issue forward during a pan-European conference it organised on 6 November in Brussels. Coping with a Parent in Prison: An Agenda for Policy Reform brought together over one hundred professionals, practitioners and policymakers from across Europe to participate in the launch of findings and policy recommendations from COPING, a child-centred research project which spent three years interviewing over 700 children affected by parental incarceration in Sweden, Germany, Romania and the UK to better understand their difficulties and needs, their resilience and their vulnerability to mental health problems.

The day opened with speeches from the Deputy Ombudsperson for Children Croatia Maja Gabelica Supljika, The Right Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond, and MEP Jean Lambert from the UK. Baroness Hale stressed the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with respect to children affected by parental incarceration, emphasising that “All in the criminal justice, social welfare and education fields should recognise the needs of this group of children and make proper provision for them.” Lambert echoed the need for greater recognition of this group: “I don't think that the children whose parents are in prison are taken into consideration in terms of resources, attitudes and awareness at the EU level”— and this despite the fact that the number of children affected by parental incarceration exceeds those affected by divorce in the UK, she pointed out. Maja Gabelica Supljika was instrumental in getting the issue of children of prisoners off the ground in Croatia in the mid-2000s, demonstrating the key role that the Children’s Ombudspersons throughout Europe can play in garnering support for these children.

In addition to presentations from researchers and NGOs involved in the COPING project, a panel of young people from Sweden and the UK presented their own recommendations for policymakers. They stressed the importance, for example, of “children and young people receiving information about what is going on with the parent, where they are going to be or when they are coming back”. The desire for more information was the top need expressed by children and young people in the COPING sample.

A panel session of experts, including Rachel Brett of the Quaker United Nations Office; Stefan Enggist of the World Health Organisation; Verena Knaus of UNICEF Brussels, and Child’s Rights Coordinator Margaret Tuite of the European Commission, concluded the afternoon session by responding to questions and generating new ideas to address the various needs of children of prisoners within their own fields. They all agreed to place children of prisoners higher up on their agendas. “This research has made invisible children visible and I will add children of prisoners to the group of vulnerable children who should be considered and recognised ,” said Knaus.

Leda Koursoumba, Children’s Commissioner of Cyprus, who was unable to co-chair the conference at the last minute due to the death of a mentor and colleague, sent her opening statement. It sums up the key relevance and importance of the event: ... Today, we will have the opportunity... to hear the voice of children with an imprisoned parent, and we will have the chance... to make them visible to the public authorities and the service systems .

Further information about the COPING project can be found on this website [www.coping-project.eu] or contact the European Network for Children of Imprisoned Parents (Eurochips) at contact@eurochips.org



[1] Source: Eurochips. Extrapolation based on a demographic ‘parenting rate’ established by France’s national statistics institute (INSEE) in 1999 as part of a national census, which included 1,700 male offenders.