Dec 072018

Since 2015, children of incarcerated parents has been a priority issue and area of work for the Canadian Friends Service Committee. Aligned with CFSC’s goals of penal abolition, reducing harm and restoring healing in the criminal justice system, CFSC works to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of children of incarcerated parents in Canada.

In 2016, CFSC commissioned a review of sample law cases from the year 2015 to determine if the best interests of the child were considered in the sentencing of parents. CFSC is pleased to present the final research analysis paper titled Considering the Best Interests of the Child when Sentencing Parents in Canada:  Sample Case Law Review. This research paper summarises current literature and research on children of incarcerated parents in Canada, international standards and norms, and presents our research on sentencing practices of parents in Canada. The paper finishes with some reflections and suggested areas of further research and policy consideration.

In summary, CFSC found unlike best practices, Canada is lagging behind other common law countries and emerging international standards that prioritize the best interests of the child when dealing with individuals with parental responsibilities.

Considering the best interests of the child is of critical importance to sentencing decisions, yet is often not done.

Based on this study and a review of the literature in Canada, we consider that significant further research and consideration of the impact of parental incarceration must be undertaken in Canada.

Below are our final reflections and suggestions for areas of pursuit.

  1. Canada needs a rights based framework for sentencing, enhanced pre-sentence reports and alternatives to prison.
  2. Canada needs more accurate and detailed data about children with incarcerated parents.
  3. There needs to be more education and public awareness about children of incarcerated parents.
  4. Children need a strong and independent advocate for their rights when decisions are made that impact them:A National Child Rights Advocate or Commissioner?
  5. Further research is necessary to consider the multiple and overlapping vulnerabilities of children impacted by the justice system and its relationship with child welfare and other institutions. 
  6. Further research is necessary to consider situations in which the child(ren) has/have been a victim or witness to an offence committed by their parent(s).

We encourage you to read this research paper and share it with your networks to raise awareness of this issue in Canada. We hope to spark conversation and engage with the public as well as government and policy makers to advance the rights of children impacted by the criminal justice system.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact us.

Download the research paper.

Learn more about our criminal justice work.