human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Online service for prisoners’ children

Caritas Germany launches expanded website

Mum or Dad is doing time in prison. What does that mean to a child? What does someone in jail do all day, and what do their surroundings look like? What do other children like me do, how do they feel, and how do other children in my situation cope? Caritas Germany has a website for children that provides them with answers to these questions, and after a recent upgrade, it’s now available in six languages. In times of coronavirus lockdowns, where prison visits are strictly limited, it’s more valuable than ever for kids whose contact with their imprisoned parent is scarce.

For children, having a parent in prison is deeply unsettling and the source of intense questioning. More often than not, the fact that a family member is incarcerated is kept a secret – with neighbours and friends at school being told that the person is away for work or is recovering from a long illness. That makes it even more difficult for children to find someone to talk to about the situation, which is kept secret.

So Caritas Germany set up a dedicated website for children in 2014, in cooperation with Caritas Germany’s online counselling platform (which also provides assistance to prisoners’ other relatives). The website www.besuch-im-gefaengnis.de (which means “visit-in-prison”) provides children with information about life in prison and helps them prepare for a visit in jail. In the current context, the first aspect is the main focus since visits are forbidden or very much restricted because of the pandemic. Children can inform themselves about the daily routine in prison and see what a prison cell looks like.

The website also offers an overview of where to get support as a relative of a jailed person, as well as testimonials from other children about what’s helping them cope with the situation.

The website, which in 2020 got about 200 visits a day, was relaunched at the end of March. The content was enriched, the design improved and, most importantly, it is now available in six languages: in addition to German, children can access information in English, French, Russian, Turkish, and Arabic. A main goal of the relaunch was to reach out to children who understand little or no German, whose access to their parents is even more reduced due to the language barrier.