Shaquita Ogletree
On May 17, the National Prevention Science Coalition in partnership with the Office of Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) hosted a briefing, Connecting Children with their Incarcerated Parents. The panel included Dr. Jennifer Cearley, Oregon Social Learning Center, Joseph Tietz, Pathfinders of Oregon, Mary Roberts, Snohomish County, Washington state, Kimberly Mays, Washington Office of Public Defense, and Kristin Harrod, Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Congressman Davis opened with remarks that highlighted the complexity of the issue pointing out that in his congressional district has the highest number of children not living with a birth parent. Nationally, nearly 1.1 million parents are incarcerated with an estimated of 2.3 million children. Eight percent of children in foster care were removed because of parental incarceration. Data shows that children of an incarcerated parent are five times more likely to end up in jails than their peers. These children are often an invisible population according to panelist Mary Roberts.

Other relevant highlights of the briefing information: child visitation for incarcerated families decreases recidivism and has a positive benefit for children (Dr. Cleary). In Oregon, incarcerated parents are provided parent training skills and include support for parents re-entering the community. The Parenting Inside Out (PIO) curriculum is an evidence-based program and is trauma-informed. Dr. Tietz said that another benefit of PIO is the 40% reduction of recidivism for PIO participants. Parents are provided the PIO parent training curriculum that includes an individualized treatment plan. The Kentucky Department of Corrections has instituted family- friendly practices for incarcerated parents including video visitation, child-friendly visitation rooms, and partnerships with faith–based organizations.

In Kentucky, Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT), an evidence-based program, is implemented in the parenting programs offered at the DOC for women.

In Washington, the corrections and Social and Health Services departments developed protocols for identifying foster care kids with incarcerated parents. They identified over 61,000 children with an incarcerated parent, and many of those children were receiving higher rates of services. Over the years, many programs in Washington have lost funding, and the priority of the departments and leaders have changed. Unintended consequences from early reform in Washington included termination of incarcerated parents’ rights as the best interest measure for guardianship for children. In response to un-coordinated efforts for children and families in Washington, the state legislature created the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to focus on early learning, child welfare, and juvenile justice services for serving children and families. An advisory committee for children with incarcerated parents was developed and programs to keep incarcerated parents involved with their case plan, visitation in prison and siblings together is a key priority.

Kimberly Mays, an advocate for criminal justice and child welfare reform, stated that she has ten children, who entered into the foster care system when she was arrested, and that child protective service (CPS) has always been in her life. While incarcerated her parental rights were terminated for most of her children. As a teen, Ms. Mays suffered from addiction, and instead of treatment, she was locked up and never made it to a treatment center. While incarcerated she was unable to communicate with her CPS worker or work on a case plan. She recommended that CPS and corrections work with incarcerated parents on an appropriate case plan.

Congressman Davis called for making sure families do not lose their connectivity. We are witnessing a generation being fully raised not by their birth parents but their grandparents or kin.