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Children of prisoners are silent victims. Expert team hopes to make changes

Social work experts from Masaryk University and the Prison Fellowship Czech Republic have launched a project focused on improving the living conditions of children whose parents are in prison.

In the Czech Republic there are currently 40,000 children who have at least one parent in prison. There are no Czech laws, however, that ensure prisoners can maintain their relationships with their children. A project being implemented by social work experts from Masaryk University and Prison Fellowship Czech Republic aims to change things. The project team will propose specific changes in how such children should be treated to minimize the impact of their parents’ imprisonment on their lives.

Social stigma, poverty, and the loss of social and emotional connections to their parents. These are just some of the problems that children whose parents have been sent to jail face. “It’s hard for them. Some kids have even watched their parents being arrested firsthand. No one cares that these children have had the most important relationship in their lives taken away from them. They have no voice whatsoever in the criminal justice system. In other countries, these children are referred to as silent victims,” explains Jitka Navrátilová from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work of the MU Faculty of Social Studies.

Parents are often incarcerated in prisons far away from their homes, and their children are therefore unable to visit them due to their economic and social circumstances. When children do visit their parents though, they see them in prison, which exacerbates the trauma the children are already experiencing.

Navrátilová hopes to change the situation with help from Prison Fellowship Czech Republic as part of the Parenthood behind Bars project, which recently received support from the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic. “We hope this project will raise awareness about the plight of children whose parents are incarcerated and result in reducing stigma and social exclusion. Tangible project outputs, such as picture cards, will help children better manage their emotions in the difficult situation they are in. The research results may contribute significantly to making systemic changes in how we as a society view the rights of children whose parents are imprisoned. The project should also lead to practical, innovative proposals for measures that can help meet these children’s needs”, says Žaneta Dvořáčková, deputy director of Prison Fellowship Czech Republic, who is in charge of projects for parents and children.

The research will include interviews with children, their incarcerated parents, and the partners of prisoners. Project outputs will include proposals for new guidelines and aids for social workers who work with these children. “Today, these children are treated the same as children whose parents are getting divorced, even though the situation of the former is much more dire than that of the latter,” adds Jitka Navrátilová. The project team also plans to propose changes to legislation so that parental status is considered during sentencing so that the parent–child relationship can be maintained. The Parenthood behind Bars project is financed by an approximately 7.6 million grant and will last until May 2023.