Supporting children with a parent in prison
Children affected by the imprisonment of a parent are often hidden from the public eye. Each child’s experience is unique but the impact can be far-reaching. In 2009 a pan-European research study, entitled COPING, set out to explore the impact of imprisonment on children of prisoners. Working in partnership with local NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) the project interviewed over one hundred and sixty children across four different countries with the aim of identifying the factors and interventions which contribute to strengthening resilience amongst these children.
As the three year project draws to a close and prepares to present its findings and recommendations, Sian, a young person who participated in the research, reflects on her experience and the importance of having her voice heard.
‘At the moment I’m 14 years old but it all started when I was just 8. My dad was arrested and it left me in shock; it was completely unexpected. Because I was close to my dad it felt like my world crashed down around me when he was taken away. It was at least two months before I got to see him. This was due to our family having to move from Spain to England in a short amount of time. All this meant that we had to sell our house and leave behind friends we had met over the years. My dad received 19 years in jail. It’s been six and a half years now and I’m just looking forward to him being released in a few years time.
When my dad was first put in prison, and I started visiting, I had the strong support of my family. At first I decided that I didn’t want anybody at my new school knowing about my dad being in prison. After a couple of years I told my friends and they completely understood my hesitation. As the years passed by I became involved with a family support group called POPS. POPS were helping the University of Huddersfield with a research project called COPING and at the age of 12 I was asked if I would like to be involved. This felt like a great opportunity to get my concerns across as a young person. I believe that there are a lot of decisions made about young people’s situations which young people are not even asked about.
After a few months of giving my opinions on the things being said in COPING I was invited to speak in front of 250 delegates at the UN Day of General Discussion on ‘Children of Incarcerated Parents’ in Geneva, Switzerland. I thought this was a great chance to be able to help the project but also myself in the future. I was the first person under the age of 18 in history to be invited by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child to take part! To be able to say this is astonishing and it would not have happened if I hadn’t been put in this awful situation. Even though I was doing all of this with my dad away I felt that he was a huge part of it. He gave me tonnes of support and encouraged me to do everything that I possibly could in order for me to get the best out of a bad situation.
After attending several meetings and trips I soon realised that I wasn’t in such a bad position as other people who have a parent in prison might be. I had made a negative experience into a positive one by just talking about my issues and getting involved with local non-governmental organisations (NGO’s). I think that if I hadn’t had these great experiences and support from both COPING and POPS then the whole sentence would have dragged out. However, now I have several amazing experiences that can help me in my future career.’
For more information about the COPING research project visit the website .The findings and recommendations arising from the COPING study will be released in November 2012.
POPS provide information and support services throughout the criminal justice system with the aim of enabling families to cope with the stress of arrest, imprisonment and release. If you are a family member supporting a relative within the criminal justice system and you require information or support you can contact the National Offenders’ Families Helpline, delivered by POPS, for free and in confidence on 0808 808 2003 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org