COPING presents a child-centred research strategy covering four European countries, the UK, Germany, Romania and Sweden, and is being carried out by a consortium of 10 partners from six countries, led by the University of Huddersfield.
COPING aims to identify the characteristics of children with imprisoned parents, their resilience, and their vulnerability to mental health problems. The research reflects a spectrum of different incarceration levels, welfare policies and interventions to support children of prisoners across the four EC countries being studied. COPING also has an international level of stakeholder involvement including government officials, social workers, NGOs, prison staff, caregivers, imprisoned parents and children of prisoners.
The research strategy places a clear emphasis on knowledge obtained directly from children and young people. The project has carried out over 1000 surveys of children, aged 7-17 with an imprisoned parent, and parent/carers across the four countries. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, Kidscreen, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the WHO Quality of Life Questionnaire were used in order to ascertain coping strategies and mental health problems for the children surveyed. The results of the questionnaires are compared with normative population samples. The recently launched Child-Centred Forum will supplement information gathered through surveys by allowing a range of children to contribute their views.
Children played a prominent role in promoting the COPING project to policy makers and professional bodies at a UN Day of General Discussion for Children of Imprisoned Parents, and will continue to aid dissemination through to the end of the project. Other dissemination events to date have included a public event in Dresden which presented the first results of COPING and helped raise public awareness for the interests of children and families of prisoners, and an end-of-project school event in the UK which was attended by teachers, social workers, school nurses and students, and highlighted the importance of schools.
The end-of-project conference, due to take place in November 2012 in Brussels, has the objective to utilise research findings towards EU policy-reform initiatives. The conference will include a panel discussion that focuses on moving policy-reform forwards, with the COPING research findings providing the foundation of knowledge necessary to move policy makers into action. The panel session will involve various parties including an MEP, a member of UNICEF, a European Commissioner and a child ambassador.
Impacts of the COPING research include more detailed and evidenced information about this group of children, public awareness about their plight, potential new legislation, and improvements in prison regimes to enable effective contact and visits for children to imprisoned.
There has been a paucity of research attention and a general lack of public interest in the plight of children of prisoners despite this group being frequently exposed to a ‘triple jeopardy’; increased risk of family break-up, financial hardship, and exposure to stigma, labelling and secrecy. These challenges can lead to adverse social, emotional and educational repercussions. Therefore, with estimates of 800,000 children having at least one parent in prison in the EU this is a wide-scale problem, which needs to be addressed.
Furthermore, there has been little research on the impact of parental imprisonment on children, and much of the research that been conducted has tended to focus on child circumstances related to parental offending. Few studies have investigated children’s emotional and psychological experiences, and most have been small-scale, either in area, time or number of participants, limiting the authority and applicability of their conclusions.
The COPING Project aims to investigate the characteristics of children with imprisoned parents to enhance our understanding of their vulnerability to emotional and mental health problems. With perspectives from four EC countries the COPING Project brings together diverse perspectives on the nature and extent of mental health problems affecting these children, whilst providing a test-bed for the development of impacts at the wider European level. This includes identifying gaps in the data sets in relation to Children of Prisoners in Europe that currently inhibit the development of policy to mitigate mental health risks.
Using a child-centred, positive psychology methodology, COPING also aims to understand childhood resilience and coping strategies, including current sources of support and interventions, and to assess the value of these for identifying and planning any additional interventions. A further central aim of the Project is to raise awareness amongst policy makers to the needs of what is a much under-researched and ‘at risk’ group.
Research findings are still at an early stage, however, preliminary findings from the child-centred questionnaires and interviews indicate that children with imprisoned parents are at a greater risk of mental health difficulties than the norm. Within the data, there are five emerging themes
There is also significant evidence to suggest that children benefit from being told the truth about the imprisonment in an age-appropriate way. Parents interviewed who did not tell their children regretted it and found that trust was eroded. Children who are told lies or incomplete truths can develop fantasies.
COPING aims to enhance existing information, recommendations, knowledge and good practice for children with imprisoned parents throughout Europe. Impacts of the COPING research are expected to include improvements in information about children of imprisoned parents, 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 parents.
It is hoped that trans-European alliances will be built for the improvement of policy and support interventions to help children of prisoners. The COPING data and research will also be made available for further future research in this area.
Publishable Summary ( 1.81MB)
Please click on image to enlarge and see details