I was recently asked to speak on a reentry summit panel with The Women’s Home addressing issues women face when reentering society after incarceration. While the majority of the summit focused on the adult population, I was asked to speak on behalf of the child- specifically how to improve the outcome of children with incarcerated parents. Research shows that this year there are almost 3 million children with incarcerated parents, and that number is predicted to increase (Federal Interagency Council, 2015). These statistics do not include the 10 million children who have experienced incarceration of either one or both parents at some point in their lives.
Children With Incarcerated Parents
If we break down the statistics further, research shows that 147,000 children lose their mother to incarceration many of whom have been incarcerated for non-violent offenses such as illegal drug use or drug trafficking. While mothers are usually the sole and primary caregivers of these families, we have to ask ourselves, what happens to the children when the family dynamic is interrupted even further? Numerous studies show that the effect on children with incarcerated parents is a negative one, impacting the child’s behavior, academic performance and mental health.
Each of these components interrelate. When addressing the child’s behavior, it could stem from traumatic experiences from the home, whether it be traumatic separation through witnessing the arrest of their parent, to not knowing where the next meal will come from. The child’s behavior stems from the mental incapacity to fully understand what is happening or may happen to their parent. If the child’s mental capacity is impaired through these events, it more often than not follows them through their daily routine and continues to exacerbate overtime if not addressed.
Research has shown that children with incarcerated parents suffers from ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, developmental delays, depression, relationship and anger difficulties. These impairments of the child, in turn, effect his/her ability to learn. We know that education is the key to success, however if the child comes to school having been exposed to uncontrollable circumstances, it makes it very difficult to learn. The child is far more likely to fall behind in class, get into trouble in school and end up being funneled into a very punitive system.
Improving the Outcome of Children with Incarcerated Parents
- Children do not come in pieces. It is imperative to look at the child as a whole as opposed to focusing on one aspect.
- Create a safe space for the child to express their emotions. More often than not, these children bottle up their emotions to the breaking point and end up faring the consequences for something that is out of their control.
- Promote opportunities for positive communication between the children and parents. Many of these children need closure.
- Visiting conditions need to be sensitive to the needs of children.
- Promote working with local agencies to facilitate the reentry process.
Kiri Rose Kendall
Kiri-Rose Kendall joined CDF-Texas in August 2014. As a Youth Development Associate, Kiri-Rose focuses on identifying organizations that have the potential and capacity to operate CDF’s summer literacy program — CDF Freedom Schools® — as well as maintain relationships with existing and former CDF Freedom Schools sponsors to support local, regional and state work. She is also responsible for developing a vibrant youth leadership program for CDF-Texas that connects CDF Freedom Schools, Beat the Odds, and Young Adult Leadership Training.
Kiri-Rose graduated from Rice University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and holds a paralegal certificate with a focus on Juvenile Justice from the Suzanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University.