Following the publications of the Children’s Rights Alliance’s Child Poverty Monitor 2024 and Barnardos’ Cost of Living Report 2024, we are now aware that 236,910 children in Ireland experience enforced deprivation, with 47 per cent of parents cutting back on essentials. IPRT reiterates its concerns for the children with a family member in prison and how this cohort is at risk of poverty or already impacted by poverty. Unfortunately, Ireland continues not to have publicly available data for the number of children impacted by imprisonment, but we estimates that 5,000 children have a parent in prison daily with over 10,000 children affected each year. While IPRT welcomes the inclusion of children of prisoners in Young Ireland: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People in Ireland 2023-2028 as a cohort group in need of particular support, we recognise that further research is necessary to better understand how poverty impacts this specific group of children and young people and their families.   

People in prison have often experienced socio-economic disadvantage in their own childhoods or later in their lives. For some children already living in consistent poverty, their circumstances are made even worse when their parent is imprisoned, particularly if that parent was in employment or was providing financial support. Children with a family member in prison are one of the most vulnerable, often forgotten social groups of people facing multiple disadvantages. The words of Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward, ring particularly true for these children and young people: 

We are writing the future history of our country if we neglect those children most in need. We are condemning them to fail in the future. A brief experience of poverty is enough to have detrimental impacts on a child. The longer a child stays in poverty, the greater the impact on their life as they get older. 

Many families of prisoners become single-parent households as a result of imprisonment. Already we know that single-parent households experience the highest rates of deprivation (43.5 per cent compared with 17.7 for a two parent household) and consistent poverty (14.1 per cent versus 5.3 per cent) while they are also nearly twice as likely to be at risk of poverty.  In Ireland, partners or spouses of prisoners can only claim one-parent family payment if the person is sentenced to at least six months or has spent at least six months in custody. Prison can contribute to families remaining in poverty, with new expenses for subsidising imprisonment. It often results in many families relying on extended family for support, which can lead to strained relationships and isolation. 

These additional expenses for families of prisoners include but are not limited to transportation costs to visit prisons, loss of earnings because of the availability and accessibility of visits to prisons, the reliance on families to purchase IT equipment and broadband to engage in video visits, and also transferring money for prison tuck shop items etc.  

Together with the potential loss of household income, the rising cost of living in Ireland and the additional expenses of imprisonment can lead to deprivation and consistent poverty for many children of prisoners.  

IPRT suggests that if the Irish Government is serious about eliminating child poverty, then we must consider the impact on children of people in prison as a particularly marginalised group often facing multiple disadvantages. To echo the statement by Barnardos’ CEO, Suzanne Connolly: 

All children across Ireland should be entitled to a decent childhood, with a standard of living that supports their emotional, social, and physical development.    

Building on these recent and welcome reports as well as our recommendations in our own research, Piecing It Together: Supporting Children and Families with a Family Member in Prison in Ireland (2021) and Maternal Imprisonment in Ireland: A Scoping Study (2023), IPRT recommends: 

  • establishing a national support service for children and families with a family member in prison;  
  • enshrining the principle of “Prison as a Last Resort” for primary caregivers; and 
  • ensuring primary caregivers of a child can access social welfare payments including One Parent Family Payment immediately where appropriate and necessary when their partner is imprisoned for six months or less. 

Read more on the website.