Learning and working with families: a key strategy in supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents in Latin America

Luciano Cadoni | May 15, 2017

A family that has been reunited thanks in part to CWS support. Photo: courtesy Caminante

One of the very first things we at CWS learned when we started working on the issue of Children of Incarcerated Parents in Latin America is that this is a family issue. We can’t do our work or understand what children with parents in prison are feeling and experiencing without talking to their caretakers and to their families.

That lesson, which we learned in Brooklyn in 2013, has been a key part of our work. Today, we continue using it as a guide in the advocacy and direct service actions that CWS and our Plataforma NNAPES partners undertake and support.

One of the first things that we did in Argentina, where our regional office for CWS Latin America and the Caribbean is based, was to contact the Prisoners’ Relatives Association (known as ACIFAD for its name in Spanish). We worked with them to understand how imprisonment of one family member impacts so many aspects of the lives of everyone else in the family, including children. Today ACIFAD is one of the top organizations working in the field of familial incarceration and is running one of the only projects in Buenos Aires focused on children of incarcerated parents. CWS and the Navarro Viola Foundation support this work.

In nearby Chile, we learned that despite having a national public policy to address the needs of children of incarcerated parents, there are no specific initiatives to support these families. With the intention of helping to fill this gap, last year CWS supported the visit of ACIFAD’s president to Chile so she could meet with more than 100 women who have been part of a program that supports families with incarcerated members. One of these audience members told us, “Andrea’s visit has encouraged us to organize ourselves to defend our rights.”

Along the same lines, CWS now supports prison visits and family support groups in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Argentina. For families who do not have the chance to visit incarcerated relatives often, these activities are priceless. As one mother in prison in Argentina told us, “Having the chance [to play] with my children and with other inmates’ children brought me a joy similar to the one I felt that day my baby girl was born.” Each time these visits happen, we hear similar sentiments from those in prison and their families alike.

On International Day of Families, we renew our commitment to continue supporting this group of children and families that are too often invisible. We will also continue to work with and advocate to governments across Latin America to fulfill their protection responsibility to this group as well.

Luciano Cadoni is the Program Officer for the Protection of the Rights of the Child with CWS Latin America and the Caribbean.