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New project investigates children of prisoners


What characterises children who have a parent in prison? What does it mean for their everyday life and wellbeing? How can these children best be supported? These are some of the questions in a new mixed-methods project underway from SFI.

Everyday life and well-being amongst children of prisoners is a new project being carried out by researchers at the Children and Family Department at SFI. The overall aim is to generate more knowledge about children with a parent imprisoned.


During the last decade, there has been a marked increase in custodial sentences in Denmark. However, imprisonment not only has consequences for the law breaking individual; it also affects the family and in particular the children of the offender.

For example, we already know that the overall economic situation of the family is influenced, the child’s access to and contact with the imprisoned parent is radically changed, as is the general family situation of the child. Further, children of prisoners live with insecurity, taboo and social exclusion.

The Danish Prison and Probation Services have in recent years launched a number of initiatives to support children in their contact with an imprisoned parent. However, we have less knowledge about what it means for children more generally to live with a parent in prison.

This is the background for this project, which aims to create research-based knowledge about the scope and nature of the various consequences of parents' imprisonment from children's perspective in a Danish context.

Focus in the project is to analyse if and how these children may be disadvantaged compared to other children and whether they experience social exclusion. Focus is on the economic conditions of the family, circumstances and social relations in the family, social support from wider social networks, including school, as well as risk behaviour and well-being. The project will also analyse the children’s own understandings and coping strategies.

Having generated knowledge about this group of children, the aim is to collaborate with the professionals who work with these children in order to develop concrete solutions that can improve conditions for this group of children.


The project is a mixed-methods project, using register data, survey data and qualitative interviews. As such, the project is unique as it will generate a large amount of quantitative data on these children, and it will examine children's own perspectives by applying qualitative methods.

Administrative data will be used to describe the general characteristics of children with a parent in prison; particularly age, ethnicity, family situation, parent’s education and economic situation.

A representative survey will be carried out amongst 1500 11-17 year-olds as well as the parent/caregiver that they live with. This will be compared with children of similar age from a general representative survey amongst young people in Denmark. The questionnaire will cover the themes: family characteristics, family relations and practices, contact with imprisoned parent, risk behaviour, friendship, school.

Children and young people aged 5-25 will be interviewed about their everyday life in their family, school and leisure time, their relations to their imprisoned parent and about how they can talk about imprisonment. To aid the elicitation of narratives from the children, several visual techniques will be used, including drawings of everyday life, concentric circles and ‘mood faces’.

In addition, the parent outside prison with whom the child and young person lives will be interviewed. This is to gain background information about the family situation and imprisonment, as well as how the parent deals with everyday life, the family situation, networks, the child’s situation, as well as how parents manage their child’s relation to the imprisoned parent.


The project will be published as an SFI report in early 2016. The report will describe all results, analyses and methods. In addition, 2-3 short reports will be made. These will be aimed at particular groups of practitioners, such as teachers, social workers and prison probation officers. Furthermore, scientific articles will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals.

The project is being financed by the Egmont Foundation.

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