The psychological impact

The psychological and emotional problems children of convicts face are often overwhelming and can leave life-long scars without adequate assistance. The arrest of a parent brings fear, confusion and panic. Before and during the trial, children feel anxiety and frustration. Hopelessness and helplessness mark the sentencing. Upon their parents’ imprisonment, the child experiences abandonment, stigma and resentment. After the release, children have ambivalent feelings. Domestic violence or sexual abuse can aggravate psychological trauma’s significantly. The possible developmental and behavioural implications resulting from the imprisonment of a parent are many.

• Infants of prisoners suffer from the lack of bonding with their parents.

• For children between 2 and 6 years old, the ability to develop autonomy and initiative is likely to be damaged by the trauma of the parents’ criminal activity and/or arrest, and parent-child separation. The long-term impacts of parental imprisonment may be worst at this stage, because the children are able to understand and remember traumatic events but lack the ability to process them without help.

• In middle childhood (7-10 years old), parental imprisonment is likely to have a major impact on social adjustment; many children in this age group develop aggressive behaviours and difficulty getting along with others, particularly in school.

• Children of prisoners in early adolescence (11-14 years) have typically had multiple experiences with parental crime, arrest and imprisonment. Many children in this age group display maladaptive behaviour patterns and reject limitations on their behaviour.

• During late adolescence, children of prisoners often show increased delinquency and negative perceptions of the criminal-justice system. In summary, parental imprisonment and consequentially enduring trauma, separation and inadequate care interfere with the child´s development, resulting in negative long-term outcomes, including intergenerational imprisonment. If a parent goes to prison the children suffer deeply, which interferes with their chances to live a successful adult life.

A downward spiral

Worldwide there are currently millions of children who have a parent in prison. These children themselves are not criminals by nature or heritage. We know them. We have been working with, and for them, since 1998. They do, however, as adults have a statistically higher chance of taking the wrong path themselves due to everything they have been through and the challenges they faced. Prison populations are also growing in 78% of countries. This creates a negative downward spiral of more children with a parent in prison.

Moreover, we see a new generation of children with a parent in prison every few years as the average prison sentence in for example Europe is 7.5 months and 30 months in 2010 in the US for federal prisoners. From experience we know that problems often don’t end when a parent is released.

The problem(s) of children with a parent in prison will only grow without appropriate recognition of both the challenges children of convicts face and solutions to these challenges. We believe every child should have the ability to develop its full potential and we are committed to stop this negative downward spiral.