Conducted by: Professor Adele Jones (Project Leader), Professor Alex Hirschfield, Professor Mike Lucock, Martin Manby, Dr Bernard Gallagher, Ben Raikes and Kathryn Sharratt, 2010-2013

Collaborators: Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group, together with partner institutions from Romania, Sweden, France, Germany and Switzerland

Working in six countries, involving 10 partners and five languages, the EU-funded (FP7) COPING project examined mental health, wellbeing and resilience among children of imprisoned parents in four countries, with the aim of understanding how the imprisonment of a parent really affects children. 

Existing research indicated that a notable minority of children in many different countries will experience having a parent/carer in prison. This research also suggested that these children will encounter a range of psychosocial adversities, including behavioural difficulties, educational problems and financial hardship. However, researchers identified a lack of information on the situation of these children and how they are affected by parental imprisonment, along with the availability and efficacy of services to meet their needs. The COPING project was therefore designed to address this knowledge gap, adopting a positive psychology approach in order to focus on the coping mechanisms and resilience of these children, as well as the problems that they may experience.

Research was carried out in Germany, Romania, Sweden and the UK and consisted of four key stages, with fieldwork carried out predominantly in prisons, family homes and non-government organisation offices. The first stage involved a questionnaire survey with children who had a parent or carer in prison and also a non-imprisoned carer, followed by interviews with a sub-sample of these children and their parents. Interviews were also conducted with education staff, social workers, prison staff and foster carers. Finally a mapping exercise of services to children and families was carried out.

Overall, the research undertaken as part of the COPING project has involved over 1500 children and parents (including imprisoned parents). This has produced evidence to inform policy and programmes to better support and protect children from the effects of parental imprisonment right across Europe. The project findings showed that children of prisoners are at heightened risk of negative outcomes in terms of social and economic disadvantage, stigmatization and behavioural and mental health problems, however resilience is improved depending on the quality of family relationships, contact with the imprisoned parent and support available.

The full findings were published in a final COPING report on (CORDIS), the Community Research and Development Information Service of the European Commission. The report has been disseminated widely through a range of channels and makes recommendations at national level for European agencies and international level.

COPING project partners:

The University of Huddersfield worked collaboratively on the COPING project with the European Network for Children of Imprisoned Parents (Eurochips, France) and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO, Geneva, Switzerland), as well as partners in each of the following countries which research was undertaken:

Germany: Technische Universitaet, Dresden and Treffpunkt e.V.

Romania: Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza and Asociatia Alternative Sociale

Sweden: Karolinska Institutet and Bryggan

UK: Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group