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Our Stories Matter: Children Participation in Policy and Decision-making in Prisons

An estimated 2.1 million children deal with parental imprisonment in Council of Europe (CoE) countries. Those children retain the right to maintain a relationship with their parent, as underlined at the 2011 United Nations Day of General Discussion. Furthermore, as stated in the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC, 1989, art. 8 and 9], it is the State’s duty to protect children when parents are imprisoned and national governments shall respect the rights of all children, including those with a parent in prison [UNCRC, 1989, art. 5 and 18].

While children have the right to be heard and have their views to be acted upon, this is not rooted in decision making and policy development related to their imprisoned parent, neither is this part of the Dutch prison system.

Participation of children in decision-making processes is identified as the 1st thematic area of the EU Strategy on the rights of the child. Child participation is understood as a right for children to be heard and an obligation for adults to facilitate it and organize it in a meaningful, inclusive and safe way. Although the importance of participation is widely recognized and summarized in well-known models, such as the Lundy model of child participation, it is nonetheless very hard to realize, especially within the justice sector.

Our Aim

This project aims to structurally embed meaningful, inclusive and safe children’s participation in policy design and implementation processes at local and national level in prisons in the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent in the whole EU. It also seeks to amplify recognition of the importance of participation of children with easily shareable best practices.

The project design and the organization of its management structure respects the child’s right to participate. All project activities integrate and protect the child’s right to be heard. The project management structure makes children’s involvement central and integral in every stage of the project’s design, implementation and evaluation: a youth board will be established at the start of the project. This youth board will be composed of 4 children with a relative in prison. A children’s coach will guide and protect the children in this process.

In order to foster participation of children as a self-evident part of policy design and implementation in the Dutch prison service, the project will focus on 3 main objectives:

  1. The first specific objective is to increase understanding among all 3 target groups of the opportunities, barriers and drivers of children’s participation in the Dutch prison service, by mapping and presenting these.
  2. The second specific objective is to create space for children’s participation. This will be done by implementing 2 pilots. The first one will focus on the opportunities for children’s participation in Zaanstad Prison. The second one will focus on the improvement of existing programmes for participation of children.
  3. The third specific objective is to establish a culture within the prison service (in the Netherlands and on EU level (to a somewhat lesser extent)) in which participation of children is a self-evident part of policy design and implementation. Transferable good practices will be shared on national and EU level by making use of existing networks.

Milestones in strengthening the participation of children in prisons’ decision-making processes

  • Pilot programmes on the development of new and the improvement of existing participation
  • Youth board and dreamboard activities to actively involve children in steering of the project and
    in the implementation of its activities.
  • Facilitating a Dutch learning process to share good practices and structurally embed children’s
    participation models in other Dutch prisons.
  • Facilitating a European learning process to share good practices and structurally embed children’s
    participation models in other prisons across Europe as well.

The project will be implemented through a pilot in Zaanstad Prison. This is a relatively new (opened in 2016) large prison for approximately 1000 detainees. It includes a labour center, a psychiatric care institute, a recreational facility, offices and healthcare facilities. The prison is designed with a lot of new ICT technology, which is in place to provide a maximum of self-reliance of detainees.

The target groups of this project are children with a relative (often parent) in detention, prison management and staff as well as partners of the prison service who implement child participation initiatives. This includes anyone in contact with children who visit prisons, ranging from operational staff, as well as treatment and management staff. In addition, the target group are policy makers, in particular staff members of the Ministry of Justice and Security / Custodial Institutions. An awareness raising process on the importance of child participation will start with these target groups as they are the ones who are able to create space for meaningful, inclusive and safe child participation.

Project Implementation

Funder: European Commission Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV)

Partners: Samenwerkingsverband Exodus Nederland, Expertisecentrum KIND, EUROPRIS, COPE (Children of Prisoners Europe), The Dutch Custodial Institutions Agency

Project Duration: 24 months

Budget: 253,098 EUR