On learning of the arrest

One of the first and most difficult issues a parent or relative may face when learning of an arrest overseas is what and how to tell the children.

People often feel they must protect the children from what is happening.

Children often pick up far more than adults realise and are usually aware that something is going on.  

Children will probably cope better with the crisis in their family life if they feel they are being given the truth and that the family is facing the situation together.

Should you tell the child?

One of the most difficult things can be deciding whether to tell a child.  There are no easy answers but there are a number of points that you can think about:

  • Will the child find out elsewhere or overhear a conversation?
  • What are the consequences of telling the child?
  • What are the consequences of not telling the child?
  • Will you be able to maintain a story to explain their parent/relative’s absence?
  • How may they react?
  • Will they need to talk to other people?
  • Will you be too upset to tell them?
  • Can you explain their parent/relative’s absence in the short/longer term?

You may also like to think about confiding in your child’s teacher so that they are aware of the additional stress on your child.

In many cases, people intend to tell their child but not knowing how to do so means they keep putting it off.  As time passes, it may become increasingly difficult to raise the issue.

Not telling

Some people choose to tell the child that the parent is working abroad or is visiting relatives overseas. While such explanations may work in the short term, the child may find out the truth at some stage even if it is from someone else.

Helping a child cope

Whatever the length of time their parent is away, it is important to give the child a sense of the future. Older children may like to keep a diary.

They may need constant reassurance from you and help in maintaining contact with their parent in prison abroad.

Keeping in touch

Our booklet Keeping in Touch with the Children offers advice and ideas to a parent who is in prison and separated from their children.  We have also written this blog post which explores the challenges of enabling parents and children to keep in touch during an imprisonment overseas, and provides details of a range of activities that parents in prison can share with their children. Please let us know if you would like us to send the Keeping in Touch with the Children booklet and an activity pack to your relative in prison abroad.

If you would like to discuss any of these issues with us, please get in contact with our Prisoner and Family Support Team by either phoning us on our freephone number 0808 172 0098 or emailing [email protected]

Next page: Family Support Groups