New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents
Balancing Understanding With a Sense of Urgency
Systems and bureaucracies in NYC and the state are complex; turnover is significant; and resources are scarce, yet some important areas are progressing. For example, government leaders in NYC are becoming increasingly aware of, and sympathetic to, COIP issues, as reflected in some practices and policies. But the persistent press for change is accompanied by the realization that true, lasting change is slow and incremental. The NY Initiative launched in 2006 with hopes that it would go out of business — meaning the Initiative would disband when it was confident that systems and providers would consistently consider COIP when making decisions, policies, and practices. As of May 2015, the NY Initiative continues to convene because many systems and providers in NYC and across the state still have policies and procedures that do not proactively consider or support this population of children. Leaders of the NY Initiative and its partners are energized and eager to achieve change based on the recognition that each day of delay means that COIP remain alienated and at risk for negative outcomes (e.g., school dropout, incarceration).
Sharing Responsibilities with Enthusiastic, Talented Partners
After several years of implementation, the NY Initiative surveyed its partners to gather information about their satisfaction with the collaboration, as well as their needs and priorities related to participation in the collaborative. Many partners responded that they desire a more active role. This feedback came as a positive surprise because Initiative staff members were under the impression that the partners felt too busy to do much else outside of participating in quarterly meetings. This finding prompted a more inclusive and collaborative plan for rolling out COIP reforms, including the formation of a Steering Committee that involves shared decision-making powers among partners.
Struggling With the Lack of Local Data
The NY Initiative constantly receives calls (e.g., from reporters, staff in government agencies, and policymakers) asking how many children have an incarcerated parent in a particular district or system. However, data do not exist in NYC or the state to answer such a question. When conducting outreach, the first question that potential partners usually ask the NY Initiative is “how many children are we talking about?” In the absence of local COIP data, the NY Initiative draws on national estimates (e.g., 1 in 28 American children have an incarcerated parent) or large datasets, such as Fragile Families. But these data sources are not specific to localities in NYC or the state, nor are they conducive to the needs of systems related to evaluation and accountability. For example, a child in the foster care system with a goal of reunification with his/ her incarcerated parent should be visiting the parent at least monthly. But in the absence of COIP data, it is impossible to track compliance with this requirement. The NY Initiative knows the great need for local COIP data collection. Its advocacy efforts and provision of technical assistance, against the backdrop of greater awareness of the issue and supportive government leaders, may help to turn the tide.