As a caregiver of young children you might wonder why you would be concerned about children of incarcerated parents. Women with young children are the fastest growing group of inmates. Most women who are incarcerated have a history of victimization and substance abuse (Devine, 1997; Feinman, 1994). Because of embarrassment or concern about the reactions of others, family members may not tell you, the caregiver, or the child that a parent is incarcerated. If you care for children who are not living with their biological parent, it is possible that the parent is incarcerated.
Children whose parent is incarcerated are impacted in a number of ways. They may feel a sense of:
The impact on children depends on a number of factors, including the following:
What can caregivers do if a child in their home or center has an incarcerated parent? Caregivers might think of a parentís incarceration as similar to many other major changes in a childís life (Richards, 1992). For example, if a childís parents divorce or one parent dies, a child may have similar feelings of loss, rejection, confusion, and guilt. Caregivers can help in the following ways:
Although the impact of a parentís incarceration can last a life time, caregivers may be able to decrease the negative effects. Two books that can provide further insight are: Nine Candles by Maria Testa and When Andyís Father Went to Prison by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Both illustrate kind and compassionate responses of teachers and spouses, including the impact of incarceration on a child. Unfortunately, many families donít provide visits or other forms of contact for children and the incarcerated parent. The impact of this can be devastating for the child and the parent. Maintaining the family bond is actually one of the key factors in a parent not returning to jail or prison. Maintaining the bond can also decrease the likelihood of children following in their parentís footsteps or developing severe emotional difficulties later in life (Devine, 1997; Shaw, 1992).
Catan, L. (1992). Infants with mothers in prison. In R. Shaw (Ed.), Prisonerís Children. (pp.13-28). New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
Curtis, J. (1995). F.A.T.H.E.R.S. Fathers As Teachers: Helping, Encouraging, Reading, Supporting. Sacramento, CA: California State Library.
Devine, K. (April, 1997). Family Unity: The benefits and costs of community-based sentencing programs for women and their children in Illinois. Chicago Legal Aid to Incarcerated Mothers. [on-line]. Available: http://www.c-l-a-i-m.org.toc.htm
Feinman, C. (1994). Women in the criminal justice system. Westport, CN: Praeger Publishers.
Hickman, M. W. (1990). When Andyís father went to prison. Niles, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.
Richards, M. (1992). The separation of children and parents. In R. Shaw (Ed.), Prisonerís Children. (pp.3-12). New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
Shaw, R. (Ed.) (1992). Prisonerís Children. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
Testa, M. (1996). Nine Candles. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.
Woodrow, J. (1992). Mothers inside, children outside. In R. Shaw (Ed.), Prisonerís Children. (pp.29-40). New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.