Children of Incarcerated Parents
Much of my recent work is focused upon helping caregivers of children who have a parent in prison. I offer a workshop (at lowest possible rates) whose main goal is to help adults talk supportively with children in this predicament … whose lives have been uprooted, disconnected, confused and injured in most cases.
In this photo you see me and Jackie Breger publicizing the Bill of Rights at the California Association for the Education of Young Children conference in San Diego, February 2004.
You can obtain free copies of the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents (see below) by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children of Incarcerated Parents, They’re crime victims, too!
The child who has a parent (or other close relatives) in prison does time right along with her/his parent. Life is disrupted in so many ways that it doesn’t seem the same at all – you go to live with Grandma or a foster family, you leave your home, your neighborhood, your school, your after-school buddies, and on and on. You miss Dad or Mom. Your food changes, the family’s income changes, all of life changes. Either you visit your parent or you don’t, and each of these has its own big drawbacks.
Sadly, there are almost no structures built into our society to support children through these massive changes, and there are few places with systems that assure that parents who can safely take care of their children have alternative sentencing so as to minimize the punishment the children experience!
Many topics need to be discussed in a workshop for early childhood teachers on this subject, and I have found that responding to questions of participants make the topics we need to talk about much more real. These topics include supporting relationships in the family of the child, including relationship with the prisoner; what the teacher can and should say to such a child; sharing resources in the community that can support the children; the role of the arts in supporting mental health and emotional stability in children under severe stress.
Teachers are afraid of this subject; they don’t want to make matters worse, and aren’t sure what to say to children. It is my intention that they’ll leave the workshop with many more understandings and ways to help children get through this hard period at their disposal.
The other children in class with these children also have people missing from their lives.
Teachers can help all the children learn more about coping with feelings of hurt and estrangement, That’s part of the reason we became teachers.
(This workshop is limited to 25 people, and should be at least 1 ½ hours long.
I’m willing to give it more than once if more people ask to attend.)
I have compiled a bibliography of books about this subject, for children and for caregivers.
NAEYC members can join an Interest Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents (CHIPS) by sending an e-mail to: froznowski-at-cpsd.us indicating your interest. Name, address, telephone, e-mail address, and anything else that you think will be useful should be included.
Whatever you do, please try to raise community consciousness about these children, now five percent of American children, and rising.
I’m writing papers on issues about children who have parents in prison. They will appear here as I write them, and you’re encouraged to use them to get people talking about their ideas and feelings about what the children need and what the community should move to provide for them.
Discussion Paper 1: (409kb PDF)
3-7 YEAR OLD CHILDREN WITH A PARENT IN PRISON: WHAT DO TEACHERS NEED TO KNOW?
Discussion Paper 2: (220kb PDF)
WHAT ARE THE NEEDS IN GENERAL OF YOUNG CHILDREN WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED TRAUMATIC EVENTS?
Discussion Paper 3: (54kb PDF)
SUPPORTING GRANDPARENTS OR OTHER RELATIVES OR FOSTER PARENTS WHO ARE CARING FOR A CHILD WITH A PARENT IN PRISON
Discussion Paper 4: (242kb PDF)
UNCOVERING THE ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM: Confidentiality and Children with Parents in Prison
SF Board of Supervisors has endorsed the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Nov. 15, 2005): (PDF)
www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/bdsupvrs/resolutions05/r0545-05.pdf or go here: SF BOS resolution
Article published in the San Francisco Chronicle:
SFPD’s new plan considers kids if parent arrested
Children’s Voice Article, Sept./Oct., 2004
“A Bill of Rights for Children of Prisoners” By Nell Bernstein
Here’s a letter I wrote to someone who wanted to know what he can do in prison
to become a better father: LETTER_TO_AN_INQUIRING_PRISONER.doc
Psychologists for Social Responsibility website:
Children at Risk
Two University of Illinois documents released Feb. 12, 2008:
Breaking the Bonds: (PDF) Understanding the needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents
Understanding the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents — Mentors Perspective (PDF)
(1) A report (PDF) for Maryland Corrections reviewing effective programs
(2) Charts (PDF)by Amy Dworsky (Chapin Hall at UChicago) that show some figures for children in foster care who’s mothers are in Illinois Prison or Cook County Jail (Illinois has probably the best, longest-running child welfare database in the U.S.)
(3) A document (PDF)for Sandra Barnhill’s program that helps children and families maintain contact with parents in prison and efforts to expand it in other communities around the country (with Annie E. Casey funds).
Comment on the NY Times “City Room” blog regarding a series of articles examining the foster care system in New York. Comment number six.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights
2. I have the right TO BE HEARD WHEN DECISIONS ARE MADE ABOUT ME
3. I have the right TO BE CONSIDERED WHEN DECISIONS ARE MADE ABOUT MY PARENT
4. I have the right TO BE WELL CARED FOR IN MY PARENT’S ABSENCE
5. I have the right TO SPEAK WITH, SEE AND TOUCH MY PARENT
6. I have the right TO SUPPORT AS I STRUGGLE WITH MY PARENT’S INCARCERATION
7. I have the right NOT TO BE JUDGED, BLAMED OR LABELED BECAUSE OF MY PARENT’S INCARCERATION
8. I have the right TO A LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP WITH MY PARENT