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Session Themes: Youth Ideas for Change

Listening Session Summary: Youth Ideas for Change

This Session Themes section of the Summary presents the ideas and experiences shared by youth during the listening session with youth. It shares strategies participants suggested for engaging with youth who have incarcerated parents, strategies for programs trying to reach youth who have an incarcerated parent, and strategies for getting the word out about programs that reach youth like them. All youth who participated in the listening session have reviewed this language and have agreed that this accurately represents their perspective.

The youth participants offered feedback for policy makers and adults who work with youth who have or have had an incarcerated parent, as well as advice for implementing the feedback and strategies. Below, we have organized the strategies the youth suggested in two ways: by type and by profession.

Strategies by Type

Strategies for ENGAGING YOUTH who have incarcerated parents:

  • Get to know us: we are not statistics; we are youth who come from different backgrounds and family circumstances
  • See us for who and what we are
  • Know yourself: be aware of the assumptions and biases that you may have about us
  • Let us know we can trust you. Be reliable and predictable. Listen without judgment
  • Respect our right to confidentiality
  • Help us to help each other by providing us with opportunities to gather together
  • Help us channel our emotions into making a positive change through advocacy
  • Honor our inner strength: don’t feel sorry for us
  • Build trust with caregivers so we stop worrying about upsetting them if we talk to other adults
  • Work with caregivers to encourage truth telling about the incarceration

Strategies for PROVIDING EFFECTIVE SUPPORTS AND SERVICES for children of incarcerated parents:

  • Provide training and on-going supervision that includes:
    • Accurate statistics about children and families of the incarcerated
    • Strategies for respecting family relationships and circumstances
    • Understanding self-awareness and bias
    • Skills for building trust
    • Strategies for helping children and their parents and caregivers communicate about difficult topics
  • Involve youth of incarcerated parents and their families in decisions about programs, policies and practices
  • Design programs that train older children of incarcerated parents to be mentors for younger children of incarcerated parents

“It’s important to have a more extensive network of mentors. They really made a difference. When you have an adult figure who is being taken away and punished, you internalize that. You have a mentor, you have someone to look up to, who won't replace your parents, but who is a resource.”

  • Provide college scholarships for children of the incarcerated or assist us in accessing such scholarships when available
  • Offer transportation options and coordination to help youth get to visit their incarcerated parent
  • Offer family counseling and guidance to youth and their incarcerated parents (this is especially important given the limited opportunity and time for calls and visits)
  • Provide relevant and age appropriate guidance on the entire incarceration experience from arrest to reentry including:
    • What families and the incarcerated parent can expect at each stage in the process
    • Help finding job training
    • Help finding stable housing
  • Offer safe, comfortable ways for youth to share what is happening in their lives, understanding they may have fear about mandatory reporting rules
  • Provide information and help for coping with the unpredictable nature of managing relationships with caregivers and following correctional policy as we attempt to connect and communicate with our incarcerated parent

Strategies for MAKING POLICIES AND PRACTICES MORE RESPONSIVE to the needs of children of incarcerated parents:

  • Corrections staff should receive training that emphasizes:
    • That visits are supposed to be a positive experience for families
    • That respectful treatment and interactions with the family and the incarcerated parent are what is expected by children of incarcerated parents

“The guards make you feel like you’re the prisoner when you go to see your parent.”

  • When possible given safety and security considerations, courts should sentence and correctional agencies should place incarcerated parents at facilities close to their children and families, as closer proximity increases the chances for opportunities to visit and maintain family relationships
  • Correctional policy should promote visitation practices that are child and family friendly and empower parent-child relationships by:
    • Increasing time for visits
    • Providing information to families ahead of time via documents or websites about rules for visiting
    • Informing families when incarcerated parents are moved to another facility
    • Adjusting clothing restrictions to be more reasonable and providing optional changes of clothing
  • Correctional facilities should charge reasonable prices for phone calls and allow for longer calls to empower maintenance of parent-child bonds
  • Correctional policies and practices should simplify and expedite approval forms when necessary (e.g., when the parent is transferred to a new facility or when names and numbers of potential visitors change)

“Give me straightforward rules/guidelines for what is appropriate to wear and what to bring to see your parent.”

  • Agencies should understand the complexities of collaboration with and between other agencies (such as schools and corrections) because of confidentiality requirements
  • Schools should allow periodic prison visits as excused absences
  • Schools and correctional agencies should collaborate to allow incarcerated parents to participate in school conferences via video or phone when appropriate
  • Child welfare agencies should collaborate with correctional agencies to insure on going contact and visits for children in foster care

“The facility is run down and isn’t safe. Just because it’s a prison doesn’t mean it can be unsanitary or unsafe.”

Strategies for GETTING THE WORD OUT about the programs and services that are available to children of incarcerated parents:

  • Join with youth to create advocacy groups to increase public awareness and promote funding and expansion of services
  • Use communication methods like posters and post them everywhere — schools, public libraries, health clinics
  • Advertise on websites frequented by youth (such as Pandora and Facebook)
  • Use celebrity spokespeople (e.g. musicians and sports figures) who can contribute to reducing stigma and shame
  • Create lists of available resources and make them accessible
  • Have a social media campaign
  • Use public services announcements
  • Have mass assemblies at school (like there are for MADD)1

1 Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a nonprofit organization in the United States and Canada that seeks to stop drunk driving.

Strategies by Profession

Use the links below to find additional strategies specific to your profession.

Additionally, we have identified 11 strategies that apply across all professions:

  • Get to know us: we are not statistics; we are youth who come from different backgrounds and family circumstances
  • See us for who and what we are
  • Know yourself: be aware of the assumptions and biases that you may have about us
  • Let us know we can trust you. Be reliable and predictable. Listen without judgment
  • Respect our right to confidentiality
  • Help us to help each other by providing us with opportunities to gather together
  • Help us channel our emotions into making a positive change through advocacy
  • Honor our inner strength: don’t feel sorry for us
  • Involve youth of incarcerated parents and their families in decisions about programs, policies and practices
  • Agencies should understand the complexities of collaboration with and between other agencies (such as schools and corrections) because of confidentiality requirements
  • Create lists of available resources and make them accessible

 
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