National Leaders Address Challenges that Children of Incarcerated Parents Face

Mike King, President and CEO of Volunteers of America, opens the briefing ceremony. - Photo credit: Volunteers of America Mike King, President and CEO of Volunteers of America, opens the briefing ceremony. (Photo credit: Volunteers of America)

On December 4, 2013, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Volunteers of America (VOA), with participation from the Sesame Workshop, hosted a Congressional briefing on the challenges children of incarcerated parents and their caretakers face. About three million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent or a parent who has recently been released from incarceration. Research shows that these children experience lower graduation rates, higher rates of unemployment, and a higher risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system. The panel addressing these issues at the event included U.S. Representatives Andre Carson and Dave Reichert and leaders from the host organizations.

The briefing followed the recent releases of resources from the Sesame Workshop and VOA, including “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” a toolkit that offers tips and tools for service providers and caretakers to help children handle the stress associated with having an incarcerated parent. In the research paper Through the Eyes of a Child, VOA shares information from interviews with children about their experiences of having a mother in prison. The paper is part of the organization’s Look Up and Hope initiative, which aims to support families with incarcerated mothers.

In 2009 and 2010, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released two resources focusing on children of incarcerated parents. The publication Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers reviews state and federal barriers to identifying and serving children of incarcerated parents and provides recommendations for Congress and government officials on how to better address them. On September 1, 2010, the National Reentry Resource Center hosted the webinar “From Arrest to Homecoming – Addressing the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents.” Intended mainly for service providers, the webinar discussed the emotional and physical needs of these children and the complex dynamics among children, incarcerated parents, and caregivers. Practical tips and sample resources were also provided.