Gaps in policy and service provision mean that opportunities to safeguard the rights and support the needs of children and families with a family member in prison are continually being missed.

That is according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, which has assessed progress on a series of recommendations that were made in 2012.

A report entitled 'Piecing It Together: Supporting Children and Families with a Family Member in Prison in Ireland', was launched by the Children's Ombudsman.

The report highlights a number of gaps according to the IPRT, including limited national recognition of the rights of children with a family member in prison; the continued lack of any national support services for these children; visiting conditions that are not child-friendly; limited data and research; and stigmatisation of these children and their families.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

It was launched by Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, who has said that children with parents in prison are often the forgotten victims of crime.

Estimates suggest that around 10,000 children a year experience the imprisonment of a parent in Ireland.

Irish research based on data from the longitudinal 'Growing Up in Ireland' study shows that children who had a parent in prison reported higher levels of anxiety at the age of nine and lower levels of happiness at the age of 13, with higher levels of emotional difficulties for the children also reported by their primary caregiver.

The 'Piecing It Together' report identifies a clear need for inter-agency working, and recommends that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth take a lead role in the development of a specific policy and delivery of services for these children.

It urges that all Government departments, and in particular children, education and health, recognise children with a family member in prison as a specific cohort in all relevant policies.

IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said that for some of the children, the imprisonment of a parent is just one of the multiple adversities they are facing in their lives.

It is associated with a five-fold increase in exposure to other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We have to do much more to support these children and their families when their parent is in prison.

"Despite recommendations since 2012 for more data and research, we still don’t have an accurate picture of the number of children around Ireland who have a parent in prison. Without this data, we cannot ensure they are able to access the specific supports they deserve," it said.

Outdoor visiting areas required in the country's prisons

The Penal Reform Trust also said that outdoor visiting areas should be developed in the country's prisons to allow for family visits.

The IPRT says many children have had no in-person contact with their parent in prison for over a year because of Covid restrictions and says this will have future implications for reunification and resettlement after prison.

It says the status of family visits must be continually reviewed with restrictions lifted as soon as possible in line with public health advice.

Physical visits to the country's 12 prisons were suspended in March, October and December 2020 following Government and NPHET advice.

Today, the Irish Prison Service said the resumption of physical visits is a priority for them and said they will recommence on a phased prison-by-prison basis with visits resuming 7 days after prisoners have been fully vaccinated.

Visits in two of the country's prison restarted this week.

They recommenced in Wheatfield yesterday and are due in Portlaoise tomorrow. All staff and prisoners in both prisons are fully vaccinated.

The IPS says it is expected that visits will have recommenced in eight prisons by the end of July with visits returning to the remaining four locations in August and September. However, it points out, that is subject to the public health situation.

It says a new video visit system which was introduced in March 2020 has allowed families to continue to support those in custody.

It says that from 2 - 8 July, 2021 there were 1,661 family video visits facilitated.