Although approximately 28,300 children in the Netherlands have a father in prison, there has been limited research on the impact of fathers’ imprisonment on the family. Sociologist Simon Venema, a researcher at Addiction Care Northern Netherlands and affiliated with Hanze University of Applied Sciences and University of Groningen, conducted one of the first studies in the Netherlands on this phenomenon in his PhD thesis. His conclusion: the impact of fathers’ imprisonment varies from family to family and depends heavily on interpersonal relationships.
Venema found that in close-knit families where the father is actively involved in parenting, imprisonment has negative consequences on family life. At the same time, families with stronger interpersonal relationships appear to be more resilient against the negative effects of imprisonment in the long term. In families with poorer or even harmful relationships, for example, due to violent behavior by the father, imprisonment can sometimes provide relief.
Venema's research indicates that the opportunity for meaningful family contact plays a crucial role in the influence of imprisonment on family life. Venema: “Prisons can play an active role by focusing on fatherhood during imprisonment and creating a child-friendly environment in prison.” The involvement of fathers is not only important during imprisonment but also after release. Fathers who are involved with their children after release show a reduced likelihood of relapse into criminality.
According to Venema, the insights from his PhD thesis form an important basis for policy: "These insights help to limit the unintended and predominantly negative consequences of fathers' imprisonment for families. I hope that my thesis proves valuable to everyone dedicated to supporting families with a parent in prison."
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