The following is the executive summary from research undertaken on this subject. A full copy of the research can be found at Executive Summary The Centre for Social and Educational Research, DIT, was commissioned by the Management Committee of the Visitors’ Centre in the Mountjoy Prison Complex to carry out research into the effects of parental imprisonment on children. The topic has to date received little formal attention in Ireland, despite the fact that imprisonment affects a much wider section of the population than those who are serving custodial sentences. The purpose of the research was to address the lack of information that exists about the children of prisoners in Ireland and to provide an initial profile of their needs. In doing so, it aimed to increase awareness about the issue of child poverty among the children of prisoners and to produce recommendations that could be used to lobby for specific changes in prison policy, premised on a rights-based approach. A further objective of the research was the production of recommendations that could be used to ensure that the needs of children affected by parental imprisonment are given a broader consideration within the anti-poverty, equality and justice arenas .Research conducted in several other countries has highlighted the negative impact that a parent’s imprisonment can have on children (eg, Shaw 1992;Healy 2000; Boswell and Wedge 1999;Tudball 2000). Among the key findings to emerge from the studies are the fact that parental imprisonment can have a negative effect on the financial situation of children, that it can give rise to changes in children’s behaviour, and that it can fundamentally alter and sometimes lead to a breakdown in parent-child relationships. In addition, children may be placed under a great deal of stress if they are stigmatised as a result of their parent’s imprisonment, or if they feel that they have to keep the sentence a secret from their peers and from others. These themes were reflected in the design of the instruments used for the study. The research was conducted in the Mountjoy Prison complex during the summer months of 2001. During this period, interviews were conducted with caregivers who use the Visitors’ Centre in the prison complex and with parents in prison. A total of 26 prisoners (5 female,21 male) agreed to participate in the study. Interviews were also carried out with 19 caregivers (18 female, 1male). Data were collected by means of a questionnaire that was administered on a one-to-one basis. Informal discussions took place with children who use the Visitors’ Centre, with childcare workers and staff members from the Visitors’ Centre, with staff of the Probation and Welfare Office, with ex-offenders, and with prison officers. Summary of Recommendations

  • The following is a summary of the recommendations arising from the research, the full version of which is set out in Chapter 9.
  • A code of practice for all service providers should be developed on informing children about a parent’s prison sentence;
  • The introduction of counselling services and support groups for caregivers is necessary in order to provide them with support throughout the sentence;
  • The children of prisoners need to be given attention as a specific target group of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy;
  • Representatives from voluntary and statutory groups working with prisoners’ children should be involved in developing initiatives to support the children, in collaboration with the National Children’s Office;
  • In-service training should be introduced for teachers who work with the children of prisoners;
  • Support groups and counselling services that cater for the children of prisoners and that are accessible through schools should be established;
  • Consideration should be given to establishing visitors’ reception centres in all prisons;
  • A system for monitoring the parental status of prisoners needs to be set up;
  • Parents should be entitled to one extra phone call of 10 minutes to their children, on a weekly basis;
  • Prison staff should receive specific training on working with prisoners and their families;
  • The caregivers of prisoners’ children should be put in contact with MABS;
  • Greater efforts must be made to encourage the maintenance of contact between prisoners and their children throughout the sentence, through the introduction of special visiting schemes;
  • Consideration should be given to the publication of an information leaflet for visitors that contains details about prison visiting arrangements;
  • Parenting courses should be made available in all prisons, where appropriate;
  • A group representing the interests of children affected by imprisonment should be consulted in any future reviews of the Irish Prison Service Strategy Statement, 2001-2003;
  • Changes need to be made to the visiting area in Mountjoy men’s prison to make it more child friendly,including the introduction of a play area for children;
  • The introduction of parenting courses into the Dochas Centre, Mountjoy Prison, should be accompanied by pre-course counselling;
  • Prisoners in Mountjoy men’s prison should be entitled to receive 15-minute visits on Saturdays;
  • Further research into the financial effects of parental imprisonment needs to be carried out;
  • Before any counselling or support services are set up for children, research should be undertaken into what they would like to see such services providing.
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