COPING presents a child-centred research strategy covering four European countries, the UK, Germany, Romania and Sweden, which will identify the characteristics of children with imprisoned parents, their resilience, and their vulnerability to mental health problems. This group of children are exposed to triple jeopardy through break-up of the family, financial hardship, and extremes of stigma and secrecy, leading to adverse social and educational repercussions. None of the four countries so far recognises the extreme disadvantage experienced by these young people. Support available, for example, in accessing prisons and participating in prison visits is extremely variable and mainly provided through non-governmental organisations. Support for imprisoned parents, whose moral authority is diminished through their incarceration, is equally inconsistent. The COPING research strategy places the clearest emphasis on knowledge obtained directly from children and young people. The project will commission surveys of 200 children in each country aged 11-16 with an imprisoned parent, using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, to ascertain coping strategies and mental health problems for these young people, which will be compared with normative population samples. Smaller groups of children and parents will be involved in in-depth qualitative interviews to explore the impact of parental imprisonment and support services available in greater detail. Interventions to support these families will be comprehensively mapped. Children will play a prominent role in disseminating research results to policy makers and professional bodies Impacts of the COPING research will include improvements in information about this group of children; step changes in Government and public awareness about their plight; potential new legislation; and improvements in prison regimes to enable effective contact and visits for children to imprisoned
Better supporting children of imprisoned parents
The psychosocial impact on children whose parents are imprisoned remains poorly researched, despite evidence pointing to major social and educational repercussions for this population of youngsters.
The 'Children of prisoners, interventions and mitigations to strengthen mental health' (COPING) project examined the mental health needs and resilience of children of prisoners, and also looked at the most promising policy and intervention responses. The EU-funded research was carried out in Germany, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Assuming a child-centred, positive psychology approach, project efforts and activities were aimed at enabling the translation of empirical data into practice and policy. COPING gathered evidence from more than 1 500 children and adults in the four European countries. The countries represent different social and cultural traditions, different incarceration levels and penal policies, and different levels of support services for the affected children.
Project work included literature reviews, surveys, face-to-face interviews, and a mapping exercise of current services and interventions for children of imprisoned parents or carers. The latter were then assessed relative to the evidence gathered on children's needs. Stakeholder consultations were also held, in the four partner countries and beyond, to further evaluate children's needs and assess the extent to which findings were more generally applicable. These sessions were also useful for determining whether existing interventions, support and criminal justice processes are aligned with the identified needs.
On the basis of all the evidence collected, emerging themes and sub-themes were identified to support the wider presentation and dissemination of policy and practice implications. A wide range of good practice examples of non-governmental organisations supporting children of prisoners and their families was identified. The relevant findings were converted into a set of actionable recommendations at national and pan-European levels.
generating insights into the impact of parental imprisonment on close relatives, COPING produced a clear picture of its effects on children's resilience and on families. Project findings have important implications for policies and practices and, if applied in key areas, could significantly ease the impact of parental incarceration.