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Council of Europe issues policy guidelines to protect children of imprisoned parents

Strasbourg, 04.04.2018 – The Council of Europe today issued policy guidelines to its 47 member states aimed at safeguarding the rights and interests of children of imprisoned parents.

Some 2.1 million children in Europe have one of their parents in prison, according to estimates based on the number of inmates in prisons. These children may experience trauma, stigma, anxiety, and loss of parental care and material status which may be detrimental to their well-being, personal development and sometimes life.

The Committee of Ministers – the executive body of the organisation - adopted a Recommendation recalling that children with imprisoned parents are entitled to the same rights as other children, including regular contact with their parents, except if it is considered contrary to the child´s best interests.

Maintaining child-parent relations  can positively impact not only the child, but also the imprisoned parent, prison staff and environment, and by better preparing prisoner for release and social reintegration, also protect society in general, the Committee of Ministers stresses.

Specific guidelines are provided 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. In order to minimise the impact of a parent´s imprisonment on children, prison authorities should apply as much as possible measures such as home leave, open prisons, electronic monitoring, which can also to ease transition from prison to liberty.

Children should be normally 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. Searches on children should be done in a child-sensitive manner and staff in contact with children should receive special training.

The facility where the parent is detained should be as close as possible to the children´s home and visits should take place in a child-friendly designated prison space or even in a facility close to the establishment. Children should also be able to regularly be in touch with parents via webcam, chat, telephone or other technologies.

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.

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.

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