Children of Incarcerated Parents

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Tip Sheet for Teachers (Pre-K through 12): Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent

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School staff make a difference in the lives of all children, including children of incarcerated parents. For the child with a parent in prison, a safe and supportive school can provide a caring, stable setting offering opportunities for educational, social, and emotional development. The bonds and relationships fostered at school with peers and trusted adults play a vital role in the child’s short and long term learning and maturation.

Five Things to Know About Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent

1. Children with an incarcerated parents may be in your classroom. 2.7 million (or 1 in 28) children currently have an incarcerated parent. More than 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their childhoods. Given these numbers, there may be a child in your classroom or school who has an incarcerated parent.1 Women are a fast growing part of the correctional population (the number of incarcerated women increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men between 1980 and 2010).2 If your student’s mother has been incarcerated, there is an increased likelihood of instability in that student’s home and an increased chance that student may enter foster care or have to move to another caregiver’s home (such as a grandparent).3

2. Having an incarcerated parent is recognized as an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE). Exposure to multiple ACEs significantly increases the likelihood of long-term negative behavioral and physical health outcomes.4 Adding to the trauma, many of these children have witnessed their parent’s arrest. One study of parents arrested indicated that 67% were handcuffed in front of their children, 27% reported weapons drawn in front of their children, and 4.3% reported a physical struggle.5 Although it is not always the case, trauma often affects a child’s physiological and emotional responses; ability to think, learn, and concentrate; impulse control; self-image; and relationships with others.

3. Children with a parent in prison may be subject to stereotypes and subconscious negative assumptions. People sometimes assume children with an incarcerated parent will engage in criminal or negative activity like their parent. Be careful about making assumptions about behavior, motivation, academic ability, and potential. Research indicates that these assumptions, even when done subconsciously, can have detrimental impacts on educational outcomes.6 Children who have an incarcerated parent, like any students, have great potential to learn and succeed in school when teachers support them and establish high expectations for them.7

4. Be sensitive to certain trigger issues. When having conversations about current events, crime, criminals, or the police, be mindful of how children with a parent who has been arrested or incarcerated may feel. Children love their parents, even if a parent did something illegal. Be careful about making statements about parental involvement because Dad may not be there to sign permission slips, or Mom may not be there to help with homework. Across all school settings, pay particular attention to children of incarcerated parents being bullied by peers, and help ensure that they are not subjected to biases or stereotypes.6

5. Be aware of what researchers call the “conspiracy of silence.”8 This conspiracy refers to the fact that many caregivers intentionally do not tell children that their parent is incarcerated, deciding instead to explain the absence by saying the parent is sick, away at work or college, or serving time in the military. For children who know their parent is incarcerated, their caregiver may have instructed them to not discuss the situation with anyone, for fear of the stigma and shame associated with incarceration. The child, too, may worry about people judging their parent. However, not understanding the situation or not being able to talk about it can also be a source of stress for children. Sometimes the silence around the situation can become an inadvertent cause of shame. It is important for teachers to understand this dynamic. If a teacher knows that a child has an incarcerated parent, the teacher should be careful not to discuss that information with the child unless confident the child has already been informed. If it appears the child understands the situation and would like to confide in someone, it is important for teachers to signal that they can be trusted, will not judge the parent or the child for loving their parent, and will keep the information the child chooses to disclose confidential.9

How Can Teachers Contribute to Positive Outcomes for Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent?

Teachers can collaborate with the child’s other parent, family member, or caregiver to create a positive school setting for children of incarcerated parents. Collaboration may include:

  • Sharing relevant information with caregivers concerning successes and struggles, as well as emotional and behavioral concerns; and
  • Becoming aware of community organizations and services available to meet the specialized needs of children with a parent in prison, especially mental health resources.

Teachers can assist children who have an incarcerated parent in reaching their potential and achieving academic and social success by:

  • Implementing behavioral and academic supports that enhance the teaching-learning process;
  • Engaging in classroom methods and approaches that help students with an incarcerated parent increase their capacities to self-regulate behaviors and develop their academic promise;
  • Challenging students with a parent in prison to do their very best academically by providing support and establishing and promoting high expectations for them; and
  • Identifying areas of vulnerability and understanding that negative behaviors and absenteeism may be masking anxiety and depression, which can result from childhood trauma.

Teachers can advocate for children with an incarcerated parent and educate their colleagues on ways to address the specific needs of students who have an incarcerated parent by :

  • Establishing themselves as trusted and caring adults, serving as role models and challenging the stigma and shame that can be associated with parental incarceration;
  • Working with other support/ancillary staff (i.e., art teacher, classroom aide, reading specialist, administrators) to provide one-on-one opportunities for students with a parent in prison to express feelings openly and freely through art, writing, or any other form of free expression. For example, the children could write a letter, draw a picture, or write a poem to share with their parent;
  • Collaborating with school-based mental health professionals (i.e., school psychologists, counselors, or social workers) who understand the developmentally-sensitive implications of parental incarceration and family stress on child well-being; and
  • Asking librarians to offer books/pamphlets about parental incarceration and encourage ALL students to read them, rather than singling out students with an incarcerated parent.

Related Resources for Further Reading

Focus on the Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Overview of the Research Literature. Annie E. Casey Foundation. 2007.
http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-FocusonChildrenwith_ncarceratedParentsOverviewofLiterature-2007.pdf (PDF, 44 pages)

Helping Traumatized Children Learn: Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools. Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, Vol. 1 and 2, 2013.
http://traumasensitiveschools.org/

Parents Behind Bars: Children of Incarcerated Family Members: An Educator and Caregiver’s Toolkit to Idaho’s Criminal Justice System.
https://www.idoc.idaho.gov/webfm_send/2303 (PDF, 42 pages)

Promoting Social and Emotional Well-being for Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Product of the Federal Interagency Working Group for Children of Incarcerated Parents. June 2013.
http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Promoting-Social-and-Emotional-Well-Being-for-Children-of-Incarcerated-Parents.pdf (PDF, 8 pages)

Supporting Students with Incarcerated Parents. Rossen, Eric. Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (Also available in Spanish.)
http://www.nctsnet.org/resources/audiences/schoolpersonnel/ trauma-toolkit

Teachers Experiences with and Expectations of Children of Incarcerated Parents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Vol. 31, Issue 4, pp 281-290. 2010.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0193397310000389

The Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights. The San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership. 2005.
http://www.sfcipp.org/

Top 10 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Children of Incarcerated Parents. Project AVARY (Alternative Ventures for At Risk Youth).
http://www.projectavary.org/resources/

What Educators and Schools Need to Know When Working with Children with Incarcerated Parents.
http://www.spac.k12.pa.us/2010conference...20when.pdf (PDF, 8 pages)

References

1 The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2010). Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
2 Guerino, P., Harrison, P. M., & Sabol, W. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
3 Glaze, L., & Maruschak, L. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
4 Felitti, V. J., et al. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4) , pp 245-258.
5 Phillips, S. D. (1998). Programming for children of female offenders. Proceedings from 4th National Head Start Research Conference. Washington, DC. Criminology and Public Policy, 5, 677–702.
6 Dallaire, D. H. (2010). Teachers’ experiences with and expectations of children with incarcerated parents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(4) , pp 281-290.
7 Hinnant, J. B., O’Brien, M., & Ghazarian, S. R. (2009). The longitudinal relations of teacher expectations to achievement in the early school years. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), pp 662-670.
8 Jose-Kampfner, C. (1995). Post-traumatic stress reactions in children of imprisoned mothers. In K. Gabel, & D. Johnston (Eds.) Children of Incarcerated Parents (pp 89-100). New York, NY: Lexington Books.
9 Hairston, C.F. (2007). Focus on the children with incarcerated parents: A overview of the research literature. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents

The New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents partners with government agencies and community- and faith-based organizations to advance policies and practices that meet the needs and respect the rights of children whose parents are in the criminal justice system.

Tools, Guides, & Resources

This page provides a continually-updated list of tools, guides, and resources to assist teachers, school staff, youth, parents, and youth-serving organizations in caring for and supporting children who have an incarcerated parent. Stay tuned to this page for additional new resources as they become available.

For Parents and Caregivers

Guide for Incarcerated Parents Who Have Children in the Child Welfare System (PDF, 34 pages)
The purpose of this guide is to help parents involved in the criminal justice system work with the child welfare system to stay in touch with their children and stay involved in decisions about their children’s well-being. The guide also includes important information on steps required by the child welfare system for reunification, or having children return home to their family after foster care. Child welfare and social work professionals may also benefit from this guide to inform work with incarcerated parents, their children, and the caregivers.

Tip Sheet for Incarcerated Parents: Planning for a Visit from Your Child/Children
Visitation can be an important and meaningful experience for incarcerated parents and their children, but it can also be a source of stress and anxiety when parents’ or children’s expectations do not align with what ends up happening. Many aspects of visitation are outside of the control of an incarcerated parent, but there are things you can do to anticipate problems and reduce stress to make visitation a positive and beneficial experience for everyone involved. Included in the tip sheet are things to consider when planning for a visit from your child.

Sesame Street Resources
Sesame Workshop's initiative — Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration — provides much-needed bilingual (English/Spanish) multimedia tools for families with young children (ages 3-8) who have an incarcerated parent. These FREE resources include a resource kit with A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, a Children's Storybook, and a new Sesame Street video; an Incarcerated Parent Tip Sheet; and the Sesame Street: Incarceration mobile app for smart phones and tablets.

For Law Enforcement and Corrections Personnel

Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents Roll Call Training Video
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) collaborated on the creation of the Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents Roll Call Training Video based on the IACP/BJA Model Policy.

Safeguarding Children at the Time of Parental Arrest Law Enforcement Pre-Arrest/Arrest Checklist (PDF, 2 pages)
The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, in partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, created a checklist that provides strategies to lessen the potential harmful effects of parental arrest on children and youth.

Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents: Trauma Prevention Policy (PDF, 38 pages)
The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, in partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, created a policy that reflects input from subject-matter experts and stakeholders, providing strategies for law enforcement to improve their procedures for interactions with children when a parent is arrested.

Tip Sheet for Prison/Jail Staff and Volunteers: Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent
Prison and jail staff and volunteers play an important role in facilitating visits and helping make visits a positive experience for children with incarcerated parents. Visits from family members can help promote strong family ties and have been shown to decrease recidivism. For children, visits are an important way to maintain the relationship with their incarcerated parent, which can have important implications on a child’s behavior and mental health. Staff and volunteers are the first and last individuals that children see in the facility; their support of family visits can set an important tone that parent-child relationships are valued and important.

Training Key 1 — Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents: An Overview (PDF, 6 pages)
Part I of this two-part Training Key® on children of arrested parents from the International Association of Chiefs of Police focuses on providing an overview of the topic, defining key terms used in the discussion, and outlining the legal obligations that govern the actions of officers when confronted with these situations.

Training Key 2 — Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents: Coordination and Response (PDF, 6 pages)
Part II of this two-part Training Key® on children of arrested parents from the International Association of Chiefs of Police focuses on recommended policies and procedures.

Video Visiting in Corrections: Benefits, Limitations, and Implementing Considerations
This guide from the National Institute of Corrections can help inform administrators working in correctional settings about the benefits and challenges of using “video visiting,” in which incarcerated individuals communicate with family members via video conferencing technology or virtual software programs. The guide includes three chapters that address: (1) reasons to consider video visiting; (2) implementation considerations; and (3) evaluation of a video visiting program.

Webinar: Collaborating with Community Partners to Safeguard Children of Arrested Parents
Webinar panelists highlighted strategies for law enforcement to collaborate with child welfare services and other community partners to ensure the best outcomes for children of arrested parents. The webinar was hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Webinar: Developing a Policy to Protect Children of Arrested Parents
Webinar panelists represented the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints, the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, and Project WHAT! Webinar panelists provided guidance on the planning and implementation process of a police departmental policy to protect children at the time of parental arrest. Resources were provided to assist law enforcement agencies in developing and implementing relevant policies in their agency. The webinar was hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Webinar: Preparing to Launch: Q & A on Implementing Parental Arrest Policies to Safeguard Children
During this webinar, the Albany, New York, Chief of Police shared his experience in developing and implementing a parental arrest policy in a mid-sized police department. Attendees had the opportunity to ask panelists, representing the areas of law enforcement, child psychology, and community partners, questions regarding law enforcement agency parental arrest policies and procedures. Resources were provided to assist law enforcement agencies in developing and implementing a policy in their agency. The webinar was hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Webinar: Protecting Children of Arrested Parents: Using a Trauma-Informed Approach
This presentation provided an in-depth look at the traumatic effects of parental arrest on children, and provided best practice recommendations and strategies for law enforcement to prevent or mitigate trauma to children during and after the arrest of a parent. The webinar was hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Webinar: Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents during Investigative and Tactical Operations
Panelists discussed the potential risks to children of arrested parents during tactical and investigative operations, and provided strategies and best practice recommendations for law enforcement to mitigate these risks. Resources were provided to assist law enforcement agencies in developing and implementing a policy to safeguard children during these operations. The webinar was hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

For School Administration and Teachers

Tip Sheet for Teachers (Pre-K through 12): Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent
School staff make a difference in the lives of all children, including children of incarcerated parents. For the child with a parent in prison, a safe and supportive school can provide a caring, stable setting offering opportunities for educational, social, and emotional development. The bonds and relationships fostered at school with peers and trusted adults play a vital role in the child’s short and long term learning and maturation. This tip sheet describes five things to know about children who have an incarcerated parent and how teachers can contribute to positive outcomes for children who have an incarcerated parent.

Webinar: Educators are Critical Partners in Making A Difference in the Lives of Children of Incarcerated Parents
On September 24, 2015, the Federal Interagency Reentry Council (FIRC) Subcommittee on Children of Incarcerated Parents and the American Institutes for Research hosted the webinar, Educators are Critical Partners in Making A Difference in the Lives of Children of Incarcerated Parents. This presentation and Q&A session provided the audience with statistics on the prevalence of children with incarcerated parents, practical tips for addressing the needs of these children and youth, and how to use collaboration, focused assistance, and advocacy to contribute to positive outcomes for children who have an incarcerated parent. Presenters included nationally-recognized experts, educators who are currently addressing the needs of children of incarcerated parents, and a youth whose parent is incarcerated.

For Child Welfare/Social Work and Clinical Professionals

Child Welfare Practice With Families Affected by Parental Incarceration
This Bulletin for Professionals provides an overview of the intersection of child welfare and parental incarceration; highlights practices to facilitate parent-child visits during incarceration, include parents in case planning, and work toward reunification; and points to resources to help caseworkers in their practice with these children and families. The bulletin is available in HTML and PDF on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act: Barriers to Reunification between Children and Incarcerated Parents
This information packet, developed by the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections and featured on the Children's Bureau website, addresses how certain provisions of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) create barriers to reunification for incarcerated mothers. The packet also includes information about amendments that some states have made to ASFA to address these issues, best practice tips for working with children of incarcerated parents, and other related resources.

The Antisocial Behavior of the Adolescent Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Developmental Perspective
The Antisocial Behavior of the Adolescent Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Developmental Perspective, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, discusses the link between parent incarceration and antisocial behavior in adolescents, how it develops overtime, why this issue is important to address, and how to address it.

A Toolkit for Working With Children of Incarcerated Parents
Created jointly by the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR) within the State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Health and Recovery Services Administration and DSHS' Office of Planning, Performance and Accountability, and featured on the Children's Bureau website, this web-based training toolkit provides practitioners with the skills required to respond to the needs of children of parents who are in prison or have an incarceration history.

When a Parent is Incarcerated
Developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and featured on the Children's Bureau's website, this guide provides information to public child welfare agencies and caseworkers on working with incarcerated parents and their children. Goals of the primer include familiarizing child welfare professionals with the impact of incarceration and providing information to child welfare and correctional systems to help improve permanency outcomes for children.

For Multiple Audiences

Children in Foster Care with Parents in Federal Prison: A Toolkit for Child Welfare Agencies, Federal Prisons, and Residential Reentry Centers (PDF, 29 pages)
The purpose of this toolkit is to help facilitate communication and cooperation between child welfare agencies and federal prisons so that parents can stay engaged in their children's lives.

Children of Incarcerated Parents – Fact Sheet (PDF, 4 pages)
An interagency group that includes the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Agriculture as well as the Social Security Administration has partnered with stakeholders both inside and outside of government to identify opportunities to support these children and their caregivers. This fact sheet describes the efforts of the interagency group.

Children of Incarcerated Parents Framing Paper (PDF, 8 pages)
The purpose of this paper is to raise public awareness, and the awareness of service providers about these unique challenges and provide strategies to individuals who interface with this population, including parents, teachers, and social service providers on how to enhance these children's social and emotional well-being.

Children of Incarcerated Parents Myth Busters (PDF, 6 pages)
The Reentry Myth Buster/Children of Incarcerated Parents Series is a series of fact sheets intended to clarify federal policies that affect formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. This series is designed to help these children, their caregivers, and the service providers who work with them.

Effects of Parental Incarceration on Young Children
As part of their project, From Prison to Home: The Effects of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families and Communities, The Department of Health and Human Services funded a comprehensive brief, Effects of Parental Incarceration on Young Children that addresses the reactions of chldren with incarcerated parents, as well as: ways of modifying those effects, programs that can help both the parent and the child, how to adopt a whole family approach and why this discussion should inform research and policy issues.

Infographic: Children of Incarcerated Parents — The Impact of Incarceration (PDF, 2 pages)
Seven percent of all children under the age of 18 – that’s more than 5 million children — have lived with a parent who went to jail or prison. Learn more about children of incarcerated parents and the financial impact of incarceration on families.

Mentoring for Children of Incarcerated Parents
This review developed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Mentoring Resource Center examines research on mentoring for children of incarcerated parents and includes insights and recommendations for practice based on currently available knowledge.

Parental Incarceration and Child Wellbeing: An Annotated Bibliography (PDF, 17 pages)
This annotated bibliography focuses on quantitative research on the consequences of paternal and maternal incarceration for children that (1) attempts to control for selection using standard statistical techniques, (2) uses broadly representative data, and (3) differentiates consequences of paternal incarceration from consequences of maternal incarceration. Although this bibliography focuses primarily on research in the United States, a small number of studies using data from European countries are also included (and many additional studies in that vein are also included in the further readings section so that interested readers will be able to read more in this area).

Promising Practices Toolkit: Working with Drug Endangered Children and Their Families (PDF, 27 pages)
This toolkit, developed by the Department of Justice's Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children, aims to help professionals serving drug-endangered children by identifying promising practices in the field, as well as why these practice works and resources to assist in their implementation.

Tip Sheet for Mentors: Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent
Mentors can play an important role in addressing the needs of children of incarcerated parents. Mentors are caring adults who work with youth as positive role models in a formal or informal way, offering consistent guidance and support. Youth connect with mentors through youth-serving organizations, including community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, and after-school programs. Mentors can help improve outcomes for the children of incarcerated parents by using research-based practices and effective supports.

Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Other Caregivers for Talking with Children Who Have Experienced Traumatic Events (PDF, 33 pages)
This presentation, developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, discusses typical responses that children and youth of specific ages may display after experiencing a traumatic event, as well as how parents, caregivers, and teachers can support recovery for young people of all ages.

NEW! Tip Sheet for Providers: Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent
This tip sheet was written by youth who have or have had incarcerated parents for service providers who work with them or may interact with them. The purpose is to provide practical advice for how to help the 2.7 million children and youth who have at least one incarcerated parent.

For Youth

NEW! Tip Sheet for Youth: Youth Supporting Fellow Youth Who Have an Incarcerated Parent
This tip sheet was written by youth who have or have had incarcerated parents for service providers who work with them or may interact with them. The purpose is to provide practical advice for how to help the 2.7 million children and youth who have at least one incarcerated parent.

March/April 2015 Child Support Report

The March/April edition of the Child Support Report includes resources and information about programs that help parents who are, or have been, incarcerated and their children.