Shaquita Ogletree
The Brookings Institution hosted a briefing for the release of the latest issue of the Future of Children, “Reducing Justice Inequality” with a policy brief – “Helping Children with Parents in Prison and Children in Foster Care.” The event held on Wednesday, May 9, included an overview of the latest journal issue, recommendations from the policy brief, remarks about the impact of neighborhood inequality for children, and an expert panel discussion on strategies to help current and former children in foster care who have parents who are incarcerated. This issue covers the justice system focusing on schools and three domains – 1) foster care, 2) probation, and 3) jails.

John H. Laub, University of Maryland and Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution, provided the overview. With 2.4 million children determined to be victims of child maltreatment, forty percent of children in foster care have been exposed to parental incarceration. The negative outcomes for children in foster care can lead to substance use, less education, housing instability, increased rates of teen pregnancy, poorer mental health, and connection with juvenile justice system. More than half of the youth who age out of foster care are incarcerated at some point by their mid-20s. The policy brief strategies to avoid negative effects of the justice system on foster youth included: reducing foster care placements; increasing the stability of treatments and increasing the quality of treatment through more placements in diverse family forms, better training and support for foster parents, assuring access to drug treatment and mental health services and more and better services for youth aging out of foster care.

Also addressing the audience, Professor Robert Sampson, Harvard University, discussed concentrated and compounded adversity in neighborhoods and racial disparities. He focused on the link between violence and health. He also discussed strategies including the role of the nonprofit community on reducing violence. Professor Sampson highlighted alternatives to prison, including visitation, and re-entry support and instituting neighborhood centers for children in trouble. He said that “it is essential that services are linked to children and that they are holistic in dealing with the family problems.”
The forum included a panel that addressed children of an incarcerated parents and those placed in the foster care system. The panel included Youngmin Yin, Cornell University, Kristin Turney, University of California Irvine, JooYeun Chang, Casey Family Programs, and Brecht Donoghue, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

A third of urban children have an incarcerated father, and a tenth of urban children have an incarcerated mother according to Ms. Turney. She went on to describe how, of the twelve million individuals admitted to the jail in the US, approximately three out of five were not convicted of any crimes; however, these short-term stays in jail can be consequential. The consequences extend to the families by impeding economic opportunities and decreasing household income. Ms. Turney recommended reducing cash bail, so individuals can keep their jobs while awaiting trial.

To divert youth from crossing over from the foster care system into the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system as adults, Ms. Youngmin stated that the child welfare system could improve outcomes through interventions to minimize those risks. She recommended that efforts focus on the end—those aging out, and the front of the system—permanency options for children. OJJDP programs that can support reducing justice system involvement for youth are provided to states and local programs through programs such as the Mentoring, Second Chance Act, CASA, and Family Drug Courts. Many of these programs can be assessed without out-of-home placement for youth through community-based programs.

Click here to download the policy brief and full journal from the Future of Children website.