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Kids of Incarcerated Parents Travel a Rough Road

Missouri has almost 100,000 kids growing up with a parent in prison. (jacksoncountymo.gov)
Missouri has almost 100,000 kids growing up with a parent in prison. (jacksoncountymo.gov)
April 25, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - There are 98,000 kids in Missouri who have, or have had, a parent in jail or prison.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation takes a look at the impact that's having on children.

Scot Spencer, associate director of advocacy and influence for the Casey Foundation says those kids are more likely to be low-income, and the report says about 65 percent of families with a person in jail aren't able to meet basic needs.

Spencer says that means whoever is taking care of these children has to make decisions about whether to pay rent or provide food.

"A great number of those kids are under 10," Spencer says. "More than 15 percent of children with parents in federal prison, and 20 percent with parents in state prison, are four or younger."

Spencer says reforms are needed, both to reduce incarceration and provide the essential services that children need to get through this tough time. The report says communities, schools and faith groups can work together to help them.

Spencer says having a parent incarcerated comes with lifelong consequences, and can have the same magnitude of impact on a child as abuse, domestic violence and divorce.

"They're losing their parent in those critical years of child development," says Spencer. "And so, there are some longstanding impacts. It can increase a child's mental-health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it can hamper educational achievement in that child."

The report also makes recommendations to help parents better support their families, including increased education and job training in prison, and incentives for housing authorities to reduce the barriers people with criminal records face when looking for a place to live.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO