More than 5 million children in the nation have experienced the separation of a parent due to incarceration, including 44,000 in Utah, finds A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, a new KIDS COUNT®report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“The poverty and stress of having incarcerated parents can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence,” says Terry Haven, deputy director for Voices for Utah Children, an organization focused on children’s health and well-being.
The report recommends policymakers focus on ensuring children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return; connecting parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment; and strengthening communities to promote family stability and opportunity.
“In Utah, efforts are already underway at some correctional facilities that address these needs,” said Haven.
The Family Psychology Program, a therapeutic and educational program for incarcerated parents and for their children/family members, is one example. The program promotes the practical application of healthy family relationship skills, including: accountability, self-control, boundaries, emotion regulation, stress management, assertive communication, conflict resolution, rebuilding trust, constructive parenting and co-parenting, building a network of social support resources, and adjustment/transition following release to the community.
“Our nation’s overreliance on incarceration has left millions of children poorer, less stable and emotionally cut off from the most important relationship of their young lives,” says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “We are calling on states and communities to act now, so that these kids – like all kids – have equal opportunity and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.”
Although the societal and financial implications of mass incarceration have prompted proposed solutions from policymakers, advocates and activists, the needs of children who face increased risks and significant obstacles in life are usually overlooked.
Consider the impact on kids and families when making sentencing and decisions about where parents will be confined.
Require courts to inform local social service agencies and community-based organizations when a parent is incarcerated so he or she can connect with families.
Build family connections and offer programs and resources tailored to children with incarcerated parents.
Provide family counseling and parenting courses through prisons and in neighborhoods.
Create additional pathways with anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to ensure economic inclusion.
Direct more funds toward prison education and training for in-demand jobs.
Minimize the negative effects of a criminal record once a parent has successfully reentered society through “ban the box” policies.
Facilitate access for affected families to financial, legal, childcare and housing assistance.
Enable families impacted by incarceration to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs to cover basic needs and become self-sufficient.
Provide incentives to housing authorities and private landlords to allow people with records to access safe, affordable housing.