Thursday, June 28, 2007

When Parents Go To Prison

When people think of prison inmates, they tend to think of cold-hearted, hardened criminals. Many people have no sympathy for those who commit crimes and have to serve time. After all, nobody forced offenders to commit crimes. They could have made better choices. They need to live with the consequences of their actions.
But there are others... people also living with the consequences of the inmates' choices... that many do not think of: The children of prison inmates.
When a child's parents goes to prison, the child enters a strange limbo-like world. They often go through the same feelings as they would if their parent had died... but unlike children whose parents die, children whose parents go to prison don't always get support from the community and people around them.In fact, children of prison inmates may be ostracized by other kids at school, and even by family members. While some children may be taken into the foster care system when their parents go to prison, most are cared for by either their other parent, or family members... and many times, the caretakers don't know why,how or where they should look for help for the children.
Children of prison inmates are likely to become depressed or even suicidal. They may develop behavior problems, or show signs of having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
And 50 to 70% of children with incarcerated parents end up getting arrested themselves, eventually.
Some children may not get the chance to visit or speak to their parents, because parents are often sent to prisons that are far away from their homes, and family members may not be able to afford to take regular trips to where the prison is. Some children may assume that their parents have died, or have forgotten about them. And when children are allowed to visit parents in prison, that can be scary too!
Luckily, we are starting to become more and more aware of the special needs that children of incarcerated parents have. Many different programs now exist to help children get through their parents' incarceration.
Many organizations are able to provide things like financial assistance for caregivers of children with an incarcerated parent, support groups and special activities for children, mentors for children, and even transportation for children to visit their parents in prison.
Some organizations, in communities where prisons are located, run special houses where families of inmates can stay while they are visiting. That way, people who travel long distance to visit family members in prison don't have to worry about paying for a hotel room.
Also, many prisons now have special visiting rooms for inmates to visit their children. Instead of children having to be exposed to regular visiting rooms, which may be cold, crowded, noisy and intimidating, children can have more informal visits with their children in special playrooms.
Some prisons even have trailers, set up like homes, where kids can spend entire weekends with their incarcerated parents!
There are also storybook programs, usually facilitated by volunteers. Volunteers bring childrens' books into a prison, along with a tape recorder. An inmate can then choose a special book for their child, and read it aloud to the child on the tape. They can also write a message inside the book's cover, for the child. The tape and the book are then delivered to the child, who can then experience having the incarcerated parent read them!
If you would like to do something to help children of incarcerated parents, visit the website for the Family and Corrections Network to find out what programs exist in your area.
Children if prison inmates should never be disrespected or disregarded! Remember... they are all our children.

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