Did you know that 1 in 14 children in the U.S. have had a parent in prison?
Child Trends, a research organization, released a report estimating that 5 million U.S. children have had at least one parent imprisoned or about one in every 14 children under 18.
For black children, the rate was one in nine, according to The Huffington Post.
This comes as no surprise, but experts say that parental incarceration causes shame, stigma and trauma.
Research shows that children dealing with incarcerated parents are at increased risk for problems with behavior, academics, self-esteem and substance abuse.
Unfortunately, there are very little efforts made nationwide to support children dealing with emotional and mental effects of having a parent behind bars.
Child Trends suggests that prisons, schools and communities could do more for these children such as improve communication between parent and child, make prison visits less difficult and educate teachers on how to help children overcome stigma amongst their peers.
There are some states making strides toward better supporting these youth such as Washington where all of its prisons offer child-friendly visiting areas.
Only about 42 percent of incarcerated parents with children under 18 get visits from those children, according to federal statistics. Long distances serve as a deterrent. A new report by the Prison Policy Initiative calculates that 63 percent of state prison inmates are held more than 100 miles from their families, The Huffington Post reports.
Reflecting back, I can recall a time visiting Folsom State Prison in California (Yes, I’m one of the “1 in 14”). My brothers and I were looking forward to visiting our father until we arrived and quickly became anxious and scared … Then to add insult to injury, our grandmother wasn’t aware she needed copies of our birth certificates to prove we were our father’s children so we couldn’t even go inside.
I don’t know if that was an oversight on her part or a failure to properly outline child visitation procedures on the prison’s behalf, but regardless that requirement is a serious hassle.
Who would go out of their way and drive several hours to bring random children into a prison visit? But I digress …
In addition to not having direct communication and visitation with their parents, kids also have to deal with their peers knowing about their unfortunate circumstance.
We know kids can be really cruel and they are very observant. If a classmate has known you since Pre-K and has never seen your mom or dad, they are certainly going to ask and speculate about where they are.
It’s so nerve-racking to have to think on your feet as an adolescent and try to make excuses for the absence of an adult.
I’ve said everything from “my father lives out of state” to “I only see my dad on weekends” to “I don’t have a dad” in an effort to avoid divulging my father’s shortcomings to nosey brats — reserving the truth for those I actually considered friends.
Shari Ostrow Scher, president of the Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, described the predicament best,
“If your parent is a soldier overseas, everyone says, 'Oh, you're brave,'" she said. "When your parent is in prison, it's the same issue of loss and separation, and in neither case did the kid sign up for this. But you're not viewed in the same heroic way."
Advocates are working to improve visitation procedures across the country, with Washington leading the pack at better facilitating bonds between children and their incarcerated parents.
In addition to child-friendly visitation settings and allowing physical contact, there is also a program that offers a three-day summer camp style visitation session.
More importantly — whether a child gets to see their imprisoned parent or not — the focus really needs to be on how the communities and schools are going to better support these kids who, by no fault of their own, are put into the “at risk” category before they even have a chance to make something better of themselves.
Banner Photo Credit: Twitter @Prison_Health