Peru – 13 February 2019

Parenting from behind bars

One in four children at the SOS Children’s Village Ayacucho, Peru, needs care because their parents are in prison.

To maintain the relationship between parent and child, SOS Children’s Villages Peru developed a partnership in 2010 with the local prison to have scheduled children’s visits and parenting workshops with the fathers and mothers of children in SOS’s care. It is the only programme of its kind in Peru and in Latin America.  

Karina Godoy Chilingano and Gilberto Gutierrez went to prison in Ayacucho, in south-central Peru, seven years ago because of drug transportation. She will be out in two years and he still has five years left, but with three children waiting for them, this feels like a lifetime to them. The three children have been separated due to varying circumstance. Their youngest, seven-year-old Mariela*, lives at SOS Children’s Village Ayacucho and is the only one they see on a regular basis.

Mariela grew up in prison as an infant and moved to her grandmother’s house when she turned three. When she was brought to prison for visits, Karina noticed that the little girl was very unhappy and suspected that she was being mistreated. After Karina sought help, little Mariela moved to an SOS family.

'Auntie Elsa', as little Mariela calls her SOS caregiver, recognises the benefits of having contact with her parents: “I can see that because of the visits to prison, she feels more reassured and more confident. She comes back happier and more alert. When she first arrived, she was a fearful and uneasy girl,” says Elsa.

'They won't make the same mistakes'

Studies indicate that children with incarcerated parents are up to five times more likely to end up in prison themselves. But the research also points to the fact that children who receive strong parenting from their incarcerated mothers and fathers are less likely to be involved with crime themselves.

With a routine schedule of visits and guided development, the SOS team is creating the space for children to understand their parents’ mistakes and the consequences. In addition, with the workshops in prison, they are also creating better parenting awareness among incarcerated mothers and fathers and, more importantly, they continue to be involved in their children’s upbringing.

At home at SOS Children’s Villages, the children know exactly when the visits are due and when the day arrives, they ask impatiently: “It’s prison day! Who is taking us today?”

When they know the girl is coming, Karina cooks Mariela’s favourite meal and Gilberto buys her little treats from the prison shop. Parents meet their children on the so-called ‘day care patio’ – the prison’s most suitable space, spared the look and feel of being behind bars. The couple enjoys every minute when Mariela visits and for two hours they all forget about their circumstances and enjoy each other’s company.

The couple are also active participants in the parenting workshops organised by the SOS team and they are taking in all the learnings for when they return to their children.

“The day I get out, I want to bring all my children together in a house and work for them and give them a better education so they are better than me,” says Gilberto. “With education I give them, they won’t make the same mistakes I did.”

Learn more about our work in Peru