Irish Penal Reform Trust

COPE webinar: ‘Keeping children connected to a parent in prison in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond’

27th May 2020

On the 26th May 2020, Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) hosted a webinar on , ‘Keeping children connected to a parent in prison in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond’. The webinar was chaired by Chief Executive, Nancy Loucks, Families Outside (Scotland). Three speakers from different countries shared their experiences of keeping children connected to a parent in prison during a pandemic.

Mirna Cacic (Coordinator, Parents in Action (RODA), Croatia) discussed the use of video visits for families in Croatia through a project called Unbroken Ties. Video calls were being used in Croatia prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the use of video visits intensified during COVID-19 with a total of 368 video calls so far in 2020 compared to 308 total video calls in 2019.

RODA also organised education for prison staff on areas such as the legal framework of child protection and the child perspective during visitation according to developmental psychology. RODA have also renovated the visiting spaces for children to include thematic posters of prison life on brightly coloured walls.

Edoardo Fleischner (Co-founder, Bambinisenzabarre, Italy) discussed Yellow Telephone, a support system for family members affected by imprisonment. This service allows children and families to call from their homes for visiting information, legal information, support and advice answering questions like ‘What should I tell my children during this crisis?’. This initiative has seen an increase in users during COVID-19. Bambinisenzasbarre has also started online art workshops aimed at easing the difficulty of confinement. These workshops are child centred, allowing children from different families to draw and paint to encourage children to chat with their parents through art.

Richard Garside (Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, UK) discussed cases of child imprisonment and described instances of poor treatment of children in prison in the UK. He and his colleagues have been working with EU countries on projects regarding the release of children from prison, both as a result of COVID-19 and in general.

The webinar discussed lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, including the changes that could become a part of the ‘new normal’ post the pandemic. Key goals include:

  • A sustained reduction in prison numbers
  • Reform of sentencing practice in order to help reduce prison numbers
  • Effective use community service and post-release supports, to help reduce recidivism
  • Cooperation towards new initiatives – prison is not the solution.

Direct visits remain necessary to maintain the relationship between children and their imprisoned parent, however, there are distinct advantages to increasing the use of video visits, for example in circumstances where the prison may be some distance from the family. Of primary concern at the webinar was that the use of video visits must be seen as a supplement, and not a replacement, for direct contact prison visits in the future. Video calls should be used to further support family contact post-COVID-19. Children’s right to direct contact with a parent remains just that – a right enshrined in the UNCRC.


The full webinar is available on YouTube here.

COPE’s newsletter following the webinar is available here. The newsletter provides updates on the work of COPE organisations during the pandemic, including initiatives additional to the above.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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