International Day of Families falls on the 15th May every year and highlights the importance of families as basic units of society. The day reflects the importance that the international community attaches to families as basic units of society as well as its concern regarding their situation around the world. For International Day of Families, Margaret Doherty, Founder/Chair, Mental Health Matters 2 Ltd wrote a proem ''Reflections on a(nother) prison visit', which can be read here. We also hear about the work going on around the world from Louise Southalan, Justice Health Group Australia, and WEPHREN steering committee member.

Networks, organisations and resources 

Introducing the new Special Interest Group on “Family Engagement” in forensic mental healthcare within the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services (IAFMHS).

On April 23rd  2024 a webinar launch took place within the IAFMHS, to launch a new Special Interest Group (SIG) on “Family Engagement”. This group originated from a collaboration between (family) peers, academics and practitioners who have a shared interest in family engagement in forensic mental healthcare. As peers, practitioners and researchers, this group encounters an urgent need to develop scientific knowledge on how to participate with, involve and support family members in forensic mental healthcare. The goal of the SIG on “Family Engagement” is therefore to bring together a group of (family) peers, practitioners and academics dedicated to establishing a foundation for research, training and the exchange of knowledge on family engagement within a forensic context. The rationale behind this SIG stems from the scarcity of research and evidence-based practice in this area, and aims to  develop a substantial impact on international research and evidence-based practice on family interventions, family support and family recovery processes.

The SIG on “Family Engagement” will hold annual meetings during the IAFMHS conference to disseminate knowledge and evidence-based practices during group reflections/discussions. Besides the annual meetings, everyone is invited to join online meetings of the international network on family engagement where a forum is created to promote research collaborations and share experiences on family interventions.

As a group we are welcoming all members of the IAFMHS with an interest in family engagement to join the SIG. If you want more information on the SIG, you can always watch the recording of the webinar launch of the 23rd of April online: https://iafmhs.wildapricot.org/SIG-family-engagement

If you want to join the SIG and the international network we are establishing, please send a mail to Associate Professor Ellen Boldrup Tingleff (ellen.boldrup.tingleff@rsyd.dk) and Dr. Sara Rowaert (Sara.Rowaert@UGent.be).

If you are interested in some of our work, check out the references at the end of this article.

 

Global Prisoners' Families

https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/global-prisoners-families/global-prisoners-families

Global Prisoners' Families seeks to draw together academics from across the world to better understand how the imprisonment of a family member is experienced by the rest of the family.

Global Prisoners' Families is directed in Oxford by Rachel Condry and Shona Minson. It originated when a small group of scholars whose work centred on the families of prisoners, were brought together for a two day symposium in Oxford in 2016. From that symposium the book 'Prisons, Punishment and the Family: Towards a new sociology of punishment'  (OUP) was produced in 2018. Since then the group has developed a network which includes more than 40 scholars worldwide active in prisoners' families research, it and seeks to work towards the production, exchange and dissemination of research.

In this burgeoning field much work has focused on the UK, United States, Australia and Europe and the network intentionally seeks to raise the profile of research taking place in the Global South. 

 

Europe

Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE)

https://childrenofprisoners.eu/

Founded in 2000, Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) is a pan-European network working with and on behalf of children with imprisoned parents. The network encourages innovative perspectives and practice to ensure that the rights of children with imprisoned parents are fully respected and that action is taken to secure their well-being and healthy development. COPE is a membership-based organisation made up of non-governmental organisations, individuals and other stakeholders across Europe and beyond, linked by a staff team based at its Paris headquarters.

With our network of European partners active within prison-related, child rights and child-welfare fields, we seek to boost awareness and achieve new ways of thinking, acting and interacting on issues concerning children affected by parental imprisonment.

What does COPE do?

Raising awareness among child-related agencies, prison services and policymakers to the specific needs of children of prisoners and promoting initiatives that take these needs into account, the COPE network is seeking to:

  • Expand programmes that support the child-parent relationship and help minimise violence for children with an imprisoned parent
  • Introduce the child’s perspective throughout the criminal justice process, from arrest to resettlement
  • Foster cross-sectoral collaboration among public and private agencies involved in supporting and making decisions about children of prisoners
  • Obtain better information and greater visibility for prisoner’s children and influence policy on their behalf
  • Promote the exchange of initiatives, expertise and good practice for children with imprisoned parents
  • Enhance the competence of professionals within the field

COPE has a range of videos, toolkits and other resources to assist children of prisoners.

 

 

Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT)

https://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/

Pact is a UK national charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families.

Pact’s volunteers and staff support people in courts, prisons, probation services, and communities across England and Wales. Pact manages Family and Visitors’ Centres at prisons across England and Wales, runs the national. Prisoners’ Families Helpline and provides a range of support in the community for families of people who are imprisoned.

Recent resources include a 2024 Toolkit for schools to support children of incarcerated parents, and a 2023 participant survey report on the financial and emotional impact of a loved-one’s imprisonment, Serving a hidden sentence.

 

National Prisoners’ Families Helpline website for England and Wales

https://www.prisonersfamilies.org/ 

The Prisoners’ Families Helpline can support you if you have a family member who is in contact with the criminal justice system in England and Wales. We provide advice and information on all aspects of the justice system, from what happens when a loved one is arrested, to visiting a prison, to preparing for release. Our team is made up of highly trained, skilled staff and volunteers with professional and personal experience of the criminal justice system. They can provide practical information, emotional support, and refer you to additional support should you need it. This is a free, confidential service - you do not have to give your name if you do not want to, and any information you do give us is kept confidential. 

 

Families Outside

https://www.familiesoutside.org.uk/

Families Outside is a national charity that works solely on behalf of families in Scotland affected by imprisonment.  In addition to providing direct support and information to families and professionals, it has a range of resources.  These include the Families Outside In Briefs, which are research papers that have been condensed into concise, four-page reports that give the reader in-depth information into the issues that families face such as housing, finance, and relationships. These are particularly relevant for professionals and policy makers who are looking to understand the challenges faced by families affected by imprisonment.

Resources include a good practice guide for the support of families affected by imprisonment, aimed at organisations and individuals who come into contact with these families.

  

Australia

Mental Health Matters 2 Ltd

A lived experience-led charity that is dedicated to improving understanding of, and responses to, individuals and families experiencing mental health, alcohol and other drug challenges and criminal justice involvement.

Mental Health Mattes 2 runs a fortnightly online Families 4 Families program, which is a safe, peer-led, education and wellness community for ‘people who care’.  Mental Health Matters 2 Ltd has links to a selection of useful resources here.

 

USA

The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated

https://nrccfi.camden.rutgers.edu/

The NRCCFI is a national U.S. organisation focused on children and families of the incarcerated and programs that serve them.  Its activities are:

  • Disseminating accurate and relevant information
  • Guiding the development of family strengthening policy and practice
  • Training, preparing, and inspiring those working in the field
  • Including the families in defining the issues and designing solutions

It has a wide range of resources including podcasts, fact sheets, links to research and assistance with college scholarships for children of incarcerated parents.  It also publishes a range of relevant research here.

Assisting Families of Inmates

https://afoi.org/

AFOI’s services focus on supporting underserved families of the incarcerated by providing meaningful visitation, family assistance, and children’s programs  that achieve positive, evidence-based outcomes.

Thousands of children have not seen parents for a year: hidden impact of  COVID on prisoners' families | University of Oxford

 

Recent research of interest 

1. Exposure to Family Member Incarceration and Adult Well-being in the United States. Full report available here:

This US research looks at whether the incarceration of a family member is associated with well-being and projected life expectancy.

Findings: In this cross-sectional study including 2815 individuals, any family member incarceration was associated with lower well-being and a projected 2.6-year reduction in life expectancy compared with no family member incarceration experience. Among those with any family incarceration, Black respondents had an estimated 0.5 fewer years of projected life expectancy compared with White respondents. Meaning These findings suggest that efforts to decarcerate may improve population-level health and well-being by reducing racial disparities and detrimental outcomes associated with incarceration for nonincarcerated family members.

 

2. Family member incarceration and coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full report available here

Background: The disproportionately high rate of incarceration and COVID-19 cases during the summer of 2020 in the United States contributed to a set of circumstances that has produced considerable public health concerns as correctional facilities have emerged as significant COVID-19 hot spots. During the COVID-19 pandemic, having a family member incarcerated can be an especially stressful experience. This study assesses how concern about an incarcerated family member contracting COVID-19 impacts diverse coping strategies.

Results: Data are from a survey of individuals who have a family member incarcerated in Texas (N = 365). Ordinary least squares regression is used to examine the association between concern about an incarcerated family member contracting COVID-19 and coping strategies. Findings demonstrate that higher levels of concern for an incarcerated person’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with dysfunctional coping mechanisms, but not adaptive or functional coping strategies.

Conclusions: Results suggest appropriate systemic responses by correctional administrations and public health practices can help mitigate dysfunctional coping mechanisms by family members during infectious disease outbreaks in correctional facilities.

 

3. Experiences of Kinship and Connection to Family for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Young Men with Histories of Incarceration. Full text available here

Epidemiological approaches have brought important attention to the issues surrounding the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and the enormous health and socio-economic disparities they face. An implicit discourse often exists within the construction of this “knowledge”, however, that situates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in deficit terms.

Using narrative inquiry, a methodological approach congruent with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and ways of knowing, we aim to challenge this dominant discourse, via an examination of the narratives of eight Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander young men (aged 19-24 years) involved in the criminal justice system. Our analysis is embedded in understandings of the core role of family and kin in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Experiences of family removal and dislocation were common, as were narratives of striving, often against all odds, to preserve and nurture family connections and kinship ties. We reveal how experiences of ongoing trauma and loss (impacted by the intergenerational effects of colonisation) harmed young men’s ties to kinship systems and family and in doing so deprived them of the very systems needed to sustain a sense of value, purpose and belonging.

A commitment by governments to adequately fund and resource solutions that honour and respect the important role family and kin represents in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is urgently needed, as are sustainable solutions that address the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people that are self-determining and led by their people.

 

4. A Family Resilience Agenda for Understanding and Responding to Parental Incarceration. Full copy available here

This US research argues that a family resilience perspective is useful in considering child and family level processes that may mitigate the harmful impact of parental incarceration.

In this paper the researchers:

  • Review evidence that points to parental incarceration as a risk to children
  • Examine research that highlights children’s competence in the face of adversity as well as adaptive family processes, such as parenting and contact with the incarcerated parent, that contribute to children’s well-being.
  • Offer recommendations for methodological innovation aimed at assessing competence, evaluating interventions, and incorporating multimethod approaches that capture dynamic processes and developmental change.
  • The paper concludes with practice and policy implications and emphasize how a family resilience agenda suggests the need to contextualize developmental and family strengths within broader systems of discrimination and oppression.

 

5. Against the Odds: A Structural Equation Analysis of Family Resilience Processes during Paternal Incarceration. Full text available here

On any given day, approximately 2.1 million children in Europe have an incarcerated parent. Although research indicates that material hardship is associated with parental incarceration, and particularly paternal incarceration, little is known about family processes that may mitigate the harmful effects of such hardship on children with an incarcerated parent.

Guided by a resilience framework, this study examined how family processes mediate the effects of material hardship on youth academic adjustment within the context of paternal incarceration. Using Danish data that assessed key family constructs, structural equation modelling was used to perform a mediational within-group analysis of primary caregivers (n = 727) to children with an incarcerated father.

Results indicate that although social support and parenting skills did not yield mediating effects, caregiver mental health strongly mediated the effects of material hardship on youth academic adjustment during paternal incarceration.

Findings suggest that economic conditions, as well as caregiver mental health symptoms, are important areas of intervention that may promote family-level resilience for youth of an imprisoned father.

We conclude with research and practice recommendations to advance our understanding of resilience among families with an incarcerated parent.

 

6. Indian wives of incarcerated men tell their stories: An intersectional narrative analysis of disenfranchisement and resilience. Full paper available here

When a family member is incarcerated, the task of emotionally and financially supporting the remaining family members and the incarcerated loved one often falls upon women, who are likely to be under-resourced and overwhelmed. Women whose husbands are incarcerated in India are likely to possess multiple marginalized identities, increasing their vulnerability to intersecting forms of oppression. Empirical research is lacking on wives of incarcerated men in India, contributing to their invisibility in policy-making and programmatic interventions.

The purpose of this study was to document the stories of women who had experienced spousal incarceration in the Indian context. Interviews were conducted with 14 wives of prison inmates who resided in or around the National Capital Territory of Delhi, all of whom either held a lower caste identity or a Muslim religious identity. Results illustrate the diversity of women’s stories and experiences with spousal incarceration. First, by grouping narratives that conveyed the same overall storyline into the same cluster, I identified three story clusters: Ambivalent but Hanging On, Unconditionally Devoted, and Independent and Disillusioned. Second, by attending to how women’s day-to-day lives are shaped by intersecting systems of privilege and oppression, particularly those tied to gender and class, I identified three overarching themes that characterized women’s narratives: (a) a complicated relationship with patriarchy, (b) the weight of socioeconomic disenfranchisement, and (c) when resilience is not a choice. The results of this study emphasize the need to distinguish between feminist agency and welfare agency, to recognize women’s experiences of ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief, and to critique the systemic injustices that forced women to be resilient. Documenting their stories is instrumental in bringing attention to the needs, challenges, and triumphs of this underserved and overlooked population.

 

7. The strain of sons' incarceration on mothers’ health. Full report available here

Research on disadvantage across generations typically focuses on the resources that parents pass on to their children. Yet, social disadvantage might also result from the transmission of adverse experiences from children to their parents. This paper explores one such adverse experience by examining the influence of a son's incarceration on his mother's health. Using panel data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and its young adult follow up (n = 2651 mothers; 18,390 observations), the paper shows that mothers are more likely to suffer health limitations after a son is incarcerated. A time-distributed fixed effects analysis indicates that the effect on maternal health may persist or even grow over time. Rather than a short-term shock whose effect soon diminishes, a son's incarceration is a long-term strain on mothers' health. The disproportionate incarceration of young men in disadvantaged communities is thus likely to contribute to cumulative adversity among mothers already at risk of severe hardship. More broadly, the results suggest how children's adverse experiences may influence parental well-being, producing further disadvantage across generations.

 

8. Exploring the Ties of Incarcerated Fathers with Their Families and Communities in the Western Cape—The Perspectives of Care Professionals. Full paper available here

It is often argued that incarcerated men who stay connected with their families are less likely to reoffend. Despite the growing literature on non-residential fatherhood in South Africa, little research has been conducted on incarcerated men in South Africa. In this article, we draw on the expertise and perspectives of three research participants who used to work closely, as care professionals, with incarcerated men in the Western Cape. By drawing on Bronfenbrenner’s human development theory, the journeys of incarcerated men as fathers are explored here. The diversity and the nature of offences are important when the links between fathers, their children and other family members are considered during their entry, stay and release from correctional facilities. The care professionals are all attuned to the agency of the individual men, the close ties some have with deviant communities, the complexities of family environments and the socioeconomic pressure under which many incarcerated fathers and their families live. The context of a society, with a violent past and present, is also highlighted.

 

Louise Southalan, Justice Health Group (Curtin University, Australia), Wungening Aboriginal Corporation (Australia) and WEPHREN Steering committee member. You can read more about her brilliant work here: Steering Committee Members • WEPHREN (tghn.org)