Bonding Through Bars – Giving Voice to Silenced Children of Incarcerated Mothers

by Kirsten Hargreaves and Samantha Sarra

BTB small logoIn August of 2012 the Centre for Environmental Health Equity hosted a pilot project entitled “Knowledge Leader’s in Children’s Environmental Health”. Twenty ambitious leaders from across Canada merged in Vancouver, BC for one intensive week together. It was during this week that Ms. Samantha Sarra and Ms. Kirsten Hargreaves met and joined together in possibility for incarcerated women and their children.

Presenting: Bonding Through Bars

On May 5-10th 2013, 20 delegates from six countries, and ten mothers with lived prison experience came together to collaborate and explore how equity focused approaches can help protect the health and bond of incarcerated mothers and their children. Peter Wall grant success was only the beginning and left us both terrified and full of enthusiasm at the opportunity before us. From researching experts across the globe to locating women with lived prison experience to join our Advisory Team it has been a whirlwind and incredible learning experience. We intentionally chose roundtable delegates with a diversity of International perspectives that could contribute social justice, policy, research and advocacy to the week.

While not disappointed the week was not without its challenges! With diversity of background and opinion often comes intense viewpoints and resistance to new ways of thinking or learning. Our 2 person facilitator team was instrumental in working with us to ensure all opinions were heard and all participants felt respected.  Delegates included representatives from organizations that work with Aboriginal youth of parental incarceration in Australia, house children of parental incarceration in Nepal, prison ministry with incarcerated mothers in Kenya and women’s prison policy in Denmark.


Highlights of the week included a public screening of the film “No Burquas Behind Bars” through a partnership with DOXA Film Festival in Vancouver which drew an interested crowd to both watch the film and listen to our panel. We were very fortunate to have a documentary film maker offer to film our Roundtable throughout the week.


Our outcomes were threefold: to bring together International experts in the area of incarcerated women, children and human rights to collaborate on recommendations for the media, film a documentary to be used for both public and academic interest and form an International network of passionate individuals to return to their respective home countries prepared to continue working with new international partnerships towards positive change in this area. We are very pleased to report that all outcomes were accomplished and that seeds of change have most definitely been planted.

In this video, a handful of international visionaries from the Roundtable speak about the work they are doing to advocate for the children of parental incarceration in their countries and communities.


Next Steps for Bonding through Bars 
  • Douglas College play based group for women and children.
  • Sam and Kirsten to utilize trailer footage to access further funding.
  • Sam and Kirsten focusing on presenting footage and outcomes at conferences for the remainder of 2013 and 2014.
  • Sam and Kirsten to incorporate this theme into their own academic pursuits (Sam in her Masters level research and Kirsten in her Doctoral level research).
  • We are humbled and full of gratitude at everyone that has supported us through this incredibly busy year. Specifically, Tara Zupancic for her wisdom, patience and support and Robert Huff for his enthusiasm, support, encouragement and this opportunity! We would welcome any questions you may have about our project and our future goals.
For more information, please contact:

Learn more about “Knowledge Leaders in Children’s Environmental Health” program.