Implementation of the “Charter of Children of Imprisoned Parents” to Protect and Promote the Rights of 100,000 Children of Imprisoned Parents in Italy

Project location: Italy
Project start date: January 2017 - Project end date: December 2017
Project number: 2016-049
Beneficiary: Associazione Bambinisenzasbarre Onlus

Nearly 100 thousends children in Italy have a parent in prison. These children have a unique set of challenges and the separation anxiety they often experience can be damaging to their development.
Children with a parent in prison are often at greater risk of discrimination, social exclusion and increased poverty.
The impact of a parent’s incarceration on children’s lives, whether the mother or father is in prison, is affected by the operation of prisons and criminal justice systems. Children may suffer instability and disruption of the vital parent-child bond.
As a matter of fact, statistics confirm that children affected by the imprisonment of one or both parents get higher chances of school dropping, social alienation, unemployment, illegality and social discomfort. For this reason, the support to the child-parent relationship in detention has to be seen as an intervention of social prevention, with a double value:
- on one hand it helps to prevent the emerging of emotional and behavioural problems in children and the negative effects on their long term psychological development
- on the other hand it helps the parent in maintaining his/her self-esteem as long as he/she is able to keep carrying out his/her parental role. 
Mission of the association Bambinisenzasbarre is to guarantee the continuity of the emotional bond between child and parent during the detention of this latter, and to sensitize the public opinion about the duty to respect human rights declared by international law and conventions (particularly articles 3 and 9 of the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child). Those rights have to  be integrated in the cultural and legal system and become part of a common set of values.
In accordance with its mission the Association works on 3 levels:
1) a daily work inside the Italian prisons, developing good practices of protection of families and children who experience the penitentiary environment for the weekly meetings in prison and psychological support to the parental role;
2) A second level of advocacy and information toward national institutions, policy makers, and mass media;
3) A third European level of advocacy, within the COPE network, addressing the EU Institutions.

The pillar outcome of this activity is the Memorandum of Understanding – Charter of the children of prisoners rights, signed by the Italian Ministry of Justice, the Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence and the president of the association Bambinisenzasbarre on the 21st March 2014 and renewed on the 6th September 2016. It is the first document in Italy protecting the rights of around 100.000 Italian children and teenagers who enter every year into a prison to visit their imprisoned mother or father. Scope of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is to drive institutions and decision makers to recognize the condition of those children and families as a social problem. In the MoU, there are 6 main articles establishing the praxis and procedures to adopt in matters of injunctions, verdicts and punishment, in the superior interest of the child. It is the first document formally recognizing the right of these minors to the continuity of their emotional bond with their parent, even during the detention, and at the same time reaffirming the adults’ right to the parenthood.  The MoU fills a gap in the public agenda and in the legal framework, compelling the national penitentiary system to urgently equip itself, in order to appropriately receive children visiting parents in prison.

The main resistances to the work of Bambinisenzasbarre is a matter of culture and society,  child protection related to the penitentiary environment is rarely a topic in the public agenda. This is still an invisible theme, therefore it becomes urgent to inform and sensitize the public opinion, in order to recognise the existence of these children as a rights-bearing group.
For this reason, this project urgently falls within the general implementation and monitoring plan of the Charter’s guidelines at the Italian national level. Main goal of Bambinisenzasbarre with this project is to protect the 100,000 Italian children of prisoners by guaranteeing that the MoU articles are respected, through actions that can facilitate the MoU implementation by the national penitentiary system.

These actions are:
1. Mapping the Italian prisons, that means to carry out a survey to acquire information from the 196 nationwide penitentiaries about internal procedures, rules and spaces concerning the visits of families and children adopted from each prison (i.e. visits time schedules, practices and operational constraints, presence of playgrounds, outdoor green areas, family rooms, dedicated operators, and so on).The data gathered from the national mapping will allow to understand the general level of application of the MoU and to point out where criticalities are concentrated. It means helping prisons’ administrations to analyze the situation and organize the internal change. The quantitative and qualitative data will be elaborated by Bambinisenzasbarre to publish an annual Research.
2. Strenghten the Yellow Telephone, the helpline service providing practical and psychological support to children and families who are experiencing the detention of one or both parents for their first time.Through this phone counseling service the association provides information and specialized advice, addressed not only to chidlren and families but also to teachers, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, NGOs workers active in the protection of children rights.
3. Carry out the Yellow Telephone App, a web app to help children and relatives of prisoners to approach and orient themselves in the complicated world of the prison and the family visit rules. With the YET App the association wants to give information and provide assistance to the most common problems emerging in those families affected by the incarceration of one parent, simply by displaying a number that can be dialed to ask questions or doubts or ask for psychological support. The app will be child friendly, it will have a simple graphic interface, easy to use for children and for anybody has little familiarity with IT tools.
Having achieved its 3 actions, the project, which received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, will offer some innovative instruments to fill a gap in public information: it will make accessible data and services required to ensure the maintenance of the parent-child relationship in case of detention, as requested by the MoU.
Children gaze can transform and humanize the prison, which is forced to consider their presence, although paradoxical. The transformation of the prison environment also falls positively on the life quality of the detained parents and their successively social reintegration.

think global, act local
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