Between 2015 and 2016, a national qualitative study, the first of its kind conducted in the Republic of Ireland, aimed to explore professional perspectives of those working in the Irish prison system on the extent to which the rights of children with a parent in prison are recognised and protected during prison visits.
Exploring the results of this qualitative survey, this article (2018) adopts a children’s rights framework to consider the challenges involved in realising the rights of a child when their father is in prison.
It was striking that the majority of professionals interviewed spoke more in the context and language of child protection rather than children’s rights. This paternalistic approach was not surprising given the fact that child protection and understanding thereof is embedded in practice and procedures. Moreover, there is no children’s rights-based training currently available for prison professionals.
While prison personnel were aware of the fact that they have some responsibility towards children visiting their father in prison, this appeared to be mainly from a child protection point of view, rather than a children’s rights perspective.
In certain circumstances, the nature and extent of contact, when it occurs, is dictated by the father in prison. In particular, the enhanced visits regime in Ireland is designed to encourage better behaviour on the part of the prisoners. However, in reality, the regime directly impacts a child’s right to access their father in prison in the short term; while in the long term, it will impact the father/child relationship and will potentially affect the child’s long-term development.
There were a number of barriers identified to ensuring the child has a meaningful relationship with their father in prison and vice versa, including obstacles of an attitudinal as well as a physical nature. In particular, negative attitudes towards a fathers ability were demonstrated by prison staff.
Read the article, as it originally appeared in Child Care in Practice here.