New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents
From its inception in 2006, the Initiative was designed to work with the systems it set out to reform—for example, corrections, probation, parole, education, and child welfare—and/or build capacity within them. In 2010, the Initiative held the first-ever statewide Summit on Children of Incarcerated Parents. The Summit was specifically aimed at creating system-specific recommendations for reform. In 2011, the Initiative issued a Call to Action (PDF, 88 pages) report that grew out of the Summit. The report outlines 87 recommendations across eight systems for safeguarding the state’s children whose parents are in the criminal justice system.
In late 2011, the Initiative received a two-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Roadmaps to Health project. The RWJF grant included the provision of technical assistance, which was instrumental in helping the NY Initiative strengthen its infrastructure to better engage partners in the decision-making process and improve operational transparency. As part of formalizing its infrastructure, the NY Initiative reached out to its membership (an array of public and private partners), and convened a Steering Committee (instituted in 2013), with the goal of increasing participation in decision-making, making time-sensitive decisions collectively, sharing responsibilities, keeping the work and discussions alive between quarterly meetings, and increasing diversity in perspectives to inform the Initiative’s agenda and processes. In 2015, the NY Initiative launched biannual partner meetings in Albany, NY, to better engage and involve upstate partners in planning, decision-making, and advocacy.
The NY Initiative is comprised of more than 40 community- and faith-based organizations and more than 20 government agencies. The full list of partners is available here. The Initiative is continually engaging more organizations and representatives from city and state agencies. For example, in 2013, there was a significant push to engage health and mental health agencies and organizations in NYC and across the state. These efforts were undertaken because the NY Initiative’s work is focused on promoting children’s well-being, and because of the demonstrated effects that parental incarceration can have on a child’s mental and physical health.
The NY Initiative also partners with researchers to generate knowledge on the topic of COIP. To date, most of the research in this area focuses on the factors that can and often do lead to negative outcomes for COIP. Not much research has been conducted to show which factors help this population to succeed, for example, entering and graduating from college. In convening the researchers, the NY Initiative shared their guiding principles to help move the researchers toward a strengths- and resiliency-based lens for conducting COIP research. This effort led to the Parental Incarceration and Child Wellbeing: An Annotated Bibliography, which summarizes numerous quantitative research articles about COIP.
In addition to partnering with professionals, the NY Initiative collaborates with youth and families who are affected by parental incarceration in order to be guided by their experiences and insights, to inform recommendations for policies and practices, and to mobilize support for priority issues. For example:
- Children and youth who have or have had incarcerated parents speak at partner meetings and public events sponsored by the Initiative, and provide input to the Steering Committee.
- The Osborne Association facilitates a Youth Action Council, which is made up of young adults ages 16 to 19 who have experienced parental incarceration and want to transform this experience into powerful platforms for effective advocacy.
- The NY Initiative collaborates with currently and formerly incarcerated parents. For example, the Initiative:
- Created an “inside” advisory group of currently incarcerated parents who speak with professionals in the community (e.g., administrators of government agencies, lawyers, service providers, and advocates) at least twice a year, and who lend insight and input into many of the NY Initiative’s projects.
- Participates in the Coalition for Women Prisoners which includes many formerly incarcerated women.
- Organizes semiyearly site visits to two state prisons. During these visits, a diverse group of professionals spends the day visiting family programs and meeting with currently incarcerated parents.
- The Initiative gathers personal stories from families, which are a powerful advocacy tool.
In addition to engaging families involved in the programs of its partner organizations, the NY Initiative also collaborates with criminal justice networks at the grassroots level to garner feedback and support on key priorities.
These are just some examples of how the NY Initiative stays connected to the issues that are relevant to, and urgent for, youth and families who are affected by parental incarceration.