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Taking our children to Krakow COPE conference

By Maria Semmonds, Family Project Delivery Lead

Photograph: children stood in Krakow

 

Brilliant young people from England, Poland, Norway and Sweden!

Each year it’s estimated that 312,000 children are impacted by the imprisonment of a parent. 

As the prison population continues to rise, so does the number of children who experience a parent in prison.

In the last 4 years we at Children Heard and Seen have worked with almost 400 children, young people and their families to support their needs, listen to their concerns, and have their views heard and reflected in national and local policy. 

To us at Children Heard and Seen, It’s part of our ethos, that the children and families we work with have their voices heard, and therefore where possible we ensure they attend conferences with us, and their voices are part of the conversation on their needs. 

Every year we go to the Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) conference, and this year we were able to take some of the inspirational, brilliant young people we work with along with us.

The 5 children who attended had their own part in the conference, and it meant that they were able to share their first hand experiences with the other delegates, influencing practitioners and policy internationally about what needs to change to meet their needs.

This was a phenomenal experience and Children Heard and Seen were honoured to support the young people to disclose their feelings on the European stage. 

They were able to explain that even though they did not commit a crime, they still feel as if they are being punished.

They discussed a whole range of topics including the experience of school when you have a parent in prison: 

Teachers can help me by not always asking if I’m ok”,

A quote from one of Children Heard and Seen’s children at the conference

Giving me some alone time

A quote from one of Children Heard and Seen’s children at the conference

and they informed us that “Teachers don’t know how it actually feels” and “Teachers might treat you differently if they know your parent is in prison”.

‘Visiting their parent in prison’ was also an interesting topic discussed by the children at the conference, with conversations about “informal fun visits” with “more time” and “quicker to get through security so we have more time together”.

A key theme, that we often discuss in the charity, is that the young people with a parent in prison want to be treated as “normal people” (which they are!).

“[They shouldn’t] expect that I’m going to do something bad just because my parent is in prison”

A quote from one of Children Heard and Seen’s children at the conference

Practitioners and academics often talk on behalf of young people, and this conference gave the young people an opportunity to speak for themselves, and educate the delegates about their needs.

After the conference, our young delegates told us how they felt:

 “I’m so proud of myself

“I hope they will finally listen” 

“I hope this makes a difference”

“All children should have a charity like [Children Heard and Seen] to support them”.

This experience was empowering for the young people, and prepared them for the upcoming first ever child-led conference for children with a parent in prison: Our Time to be Heard.

Children Heard and Seen is hosting this conference with MyTime, another community organisation supporting the needs of children impacted by familial imprisonment. 

At Our Time to be Heard, 36 young people’s voices will be heard by MPs and policy makers in Westminster this June 2019. 

Children Heard and Seen and the amazing families we work with will be there, talking proudly about our work. Our brilliant children will again be influencing policy in the UK ensuring their needs are heard.

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