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Kentucky's Massive Problem of Parents Behind Bars - How to Help the Kids

Children in the Bluegrass State have it tough. According to a new report, Kentucky has the highest percentage of children who have had a parent incarcerated, nearly double the national average. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Children in the Bluegrass State have it tough. According to a new report, Kentucky has the highest percentage of children who have had a parent incarcerated, nearly double the national average. (Greg Stotelmyer)
April 26, 2016

JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. - A new report finds that Kentucky has the highest percentage of children who have had a parent incarcerated, which is having a devastating toll on families, especially the kids.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation says at 13 percent, Kentucky's rate is nearly double the national average.

Terry Brooks, a leading child advocate in Kentucky and executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates, says he, like many, is stunned by the scale of the problem; 135,000 kids with a parent in jail or prison at some point in their lives.

"If all of those kids were a school system it would be the biggest school system in Kentucky," says Brooks.

The KIDS COUNT report recommends a variety of ways to help children who struggle with emotional and financial instability because a parent has been incarcerated.

Kathy Harrison Turner of Louisville is caring for her 7-year-old twin grandsons while their dad is in jail and their mom in treatment for what she calls "the heroin monster." She says support for things like childcare and kinship care is crucial.

"Helping them to adjust to a lot of change and provide them with stability and security," says Harrison Turner.

Brooks, the executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, says a common thread in the recommendations is getting parents who are locked up job-ready.

"If I can walk out of jail with a skill set that gets me a productive, dollar-earning job, I have a shot, a much better shot, at making it," he says.

Harrison Turner says support during a parent's reunification and reentry also has to include things like housing and counseling.

"They need ways to cope, to learn, to continue to progress and be productive members of society," she says.

The data for the report was collected in 2011 and 2012, around the time when Kentucky was reforming its criminal justice system to downsize its prison population.

Brooks says while incarceration numbers have not fallen yet, they have leveled off, and he believes the reforms are benefiting children.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY