It is estimated nearly 1 in 52 children will have a parent who is incarcerated during their lifetime; on any given day, more than 1.5 million children have a parents serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. As primary health care providers, pediatricians frequently serve children with an incarcerated parent and see the affects it can have on a child’s well-being. Lolita McDavid, MD, a pediatrician and Medical Director of Child Advocacy and Protection and UH Case Medical center, gave a talk addressing this issue on October 17, co-sponsored by the Schubert Center and the UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Pediatric Grand Rounds.
McDavid’s talk, Children of Incarcerated Parents: The Role of Pediatricians and the Community, addressed risk factors and ways pediatricians can support children and their families. Children and families impacted by incarceration are at increased risk of poverty—approximately half of people incarcerated were the primary financial support of their families. Children can be developmentally impacted parental separation and lack of attachment, have increased behavior problems, and be affected by repeated changes in caregivers and schools.
Hospitals are key places for bringing attention to this issue—physicians build relationships with children and families, who may be more open with disclosing personal or sensitive issues. McDavid discussed experiences serving children with incarcerated parents, and emphasized the importance of asking questions about who accompanies children and why one or both parents may not be present. McDavid pointed to a research project that catalogued relevant books available to children and caregivers to use for additional guidance and support. Additionally, UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital was the nation’s first “No Hitting Zone,” promoting anti-abuse and disruptive discipline occurrences, and staff trainings on intervening, which can facilitate family comfort and a safe environment for all children.
Two community respondents provided additional perspectives on working with children and families impacted by incarceration. Illya McGee, Vice President of Correctional Programs in Cuyahoga County for Oriana House, Inc., a community corrections and chemical dependency treatment agency with facilities in Cuyahoga, Summit and Seneca counties, joined the discussion. McGee discussed Oriana’s programs engaging children and their families during the incarceration and community integration periods. Oriana has served hundreds of family members, supporting healthy contact between the child and incarcerated parent through writing and visiting, when appropriate, offering assistance and connections to relevant services, and working in communities for a holistic approach. Oriana plans to continue the Family Matters Program, offer video visitations, and open Neighborhood Reentry Resource Centers. Additionally, Tracee Turner, a Transition Specialist at Oriana House, Inc., North Star Neighborhood Reentry Resource Center, shared her experience as a caregiver for children that previously had an incarcerated parent. She talked about the challenges personally, in maintaining contact with the incarcerated parent, and in supporting the children through listening, reassurance, and stability.
For a PDF copy of the UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital handout, “A Caregiver’s Guide to Helping Children Cope When a Parent is in Jail,” contact the Schubert Center.
Sesame Street released an Incarceration Toolkit for parents, providers, and caregivers, in light of their new character, Alex, a Muppet with an incarcerated parent. Access the toolkit and watch a video clip with Alex here.
The Society for Research in Child Development published a monograph, “Relationship Processes and Resilience in Children with Incarcerated Parents,” available online here.
The Children, Youth and Family Consortium (CYFC) released a Children’s Mental Health eReview, “Children with Incarcerated Parents – Considering Children’s Outcomes in the Context of Complex Family Experiences,” available here. Additionally, CYFC is hosting an interactive web event, “Unbarred: Strengthening Families Affected by Incarceration” on November 14, click here to learn more and to register.