Supporting Children and Families Affected by Parental Incarceration

Last updated: 01-14-2021

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Supporting Children and Families Affected by Parental Incarceration

Parental incarceration and the disruption of family relationships can produce negative outcomes for children, including poverty, poor academic performance, aggression, depression, delinquency, and substance abuse. Incarcerated mothers and fathers are unable to work on parenting skills that may be necessary for reunification, and separation interferes with the ability of parent and child to form or maintain a strong attachment.

Family-centered services for incarcerated parents, their children, and families focus on parenting programs, family strengthening activities, nurturing of family relationships, community supports for families during incarceration and following release, and gender-specific interventions.

Children of Incarcerated Parents U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections Provides comprehensive resources on research and policy regarding the rights of children of incarcerated parents.

Children of Incarcerated Parents, a Shared Sentence Annie E Casey Foundation (2016) Describes how parental incarceration affects families and children and offers strategies to connect parents who have returned to the community with employment as well as promising practices being used across the country to support children and families during and after incarceration.

Coping With Incarceration Sesame Street Offers activities, tip sheets, and videos for caregivers and professionals to help explain incarceration to children and facilitate communication about children's emotions.

Episode 5: Working With the Correctional System and Incarcerated Parents [Podcast] Child Welfare Information Gateway (2016) Describes the relationship between the child welfare system and those in jail or prison. The podcast includes a discussion on what to know when sending correspondence to someone who is incarcerated, how to coordinate parent-child visits, and more.

Family Engagement Program Level Strategies Family Engagement Inventory Provides information to assist child welfare professionals improve family engagement and outcomes for families when working across child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health, education, and early childhood education. The website includes tools for working with families with incarcerated parents.

Incarceration and CPS Involvement (PDF - 341 KB) Berger, Cancian, Cuesta, & Noyes (2016) Fast Focus(24) Examines the intersection of parental incarceration and child CPS involvement and its influence on parents, children, and families.

Parenting Programs in State Correctional Facilities National Child Abuse and Neglect Technical Assistance and Strategic Dissemination Center, Children’s Bureau (2018) View Abstract and Document Presents State-specific programs designed to support incarcerated parents and their families.

Supporting Families and Children of Incarcerated Fathers National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse Describes how children of incarcerated fathers have a higher chance of experiencing stress, trauma, and stigmatization, which may cause behavioral and emotional problems. The website emphasizes the importance of providing access to support services in the community for adults and children in these families.

Supporting Fathers and Families Impacted by Incarceration [Webinar] National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (2017) Offers tips on how fatherhood programs can improve outcomes for incarcerated fathers and their children and families and provides examples of programs helping fathers as they return to their communities after incarceration. The webpage includes links to webinar slides, a transcript, and additional related files.

Supporting Families Impacted by Incarceration: A Dialogue With Experts National Child Abuse and Neglect Technical Assistance and Strategic Dissemination Center, Children’s Bureau (2017) View Abstract and Document Summarizes a discussion wherein experts and practitioners discuss critical issues related to the intersection of child welfare and parental incarceration.

Tip Sheet for Providers: Supporting Children Who Have an Incarcerated Parent (PDF - 887 KB) Youth.gov Offers a tip sheet written by youth for child welfare providers working with children who have an incarcerated parent. The resource covers what youth want child welfare professionals to know and suggestions for changes youth would like to see in interactions with incarcerated parents.

Tips to Support Children When a Parent Is in Prison Martoma (2020) HealthyChildren.org Provides information to better support children during the time their parent(s) are incarcerated. 

When Parents Are Incarcerated, What Are Some Ways We Can Support Children and Families? Casey Family Programs (2017) Examines innovative approaches being used by child welfare agencies working to support children and families affected by parental incarceration. The website outlines promising practices in the field, presents examples of effective frameworks, and lists key strategies and tools.

Assisting Families of Inmates Provides a program for children of incarcerated parents in Virginia and works to create opportunities for visiting their incarcerated parent. The organization also provides referrals to services and resources for families to help them come during the incarceration.

Foreverfamily, Helping Children of Incarcerated Families Offers services to children, families, and caregivers affected by parental incarceration in the Atlanta, GA, metropolitan area. Services include after-school programs, community projects, and youth workshops that address the psychological effects of parental incarceration and seek to improve the community.

Hour Children Provides services and resources in Long Island, NY, to women who are or were incarcerated and their children in order to promote reentry into the community and family reunification.

The Pathfinder Network Seeks to improve outcomes for children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system and supports initiatives to create systems change and parent leadership in Oregon.


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