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Report: "Parent in Prison" Brings Challenges for Caregivers

PHOTO: Having a parent in prison is more common than childhood autism in the U.S., according to a new report from Volunteers of America that seeks to raise awareness of what life is like for the children and their caregivers. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: Having a parent in prison is more common than childhood autism in the U.S., according to a new report from Volunteers of America that seeks to raise awareness of what life is like for the children and their caregivers. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
December 6, 2013

CASPER, Wyo. – Having a parent in prison is more common than childhood autism in the U.S., according to a new report from Volunteers of America that seeks to raise awareness of what life is like for the children and their caregivers.

In many states, including Wyoming, resources for assistance are scarce.

Beth Poffenberger Lovell, director of Family Strengthening at Volunteers of America, says there is deep stigma for children that becomes more significant as the child grows older.

"I mean, it's one thing to have a two-year-old, it's another thing to have a 15-year-old, and to be struggling with some of the social pressures that come along with that," she points out.

The Wyoming Department of Family Services offers some help and guidance, as does the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid.

The Volunteers of America report shows it's usually better if caregivers can receive personal assistance as they often need help navigating the school system, or even buying food and clothes.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 1.75 million children under age 18 currently have a parent in prison.

Millions more have been affected at some point in their lives, and most are children from low-income families of color.

Lovell says it's important that everyone understands that these children are innocent bystanders.

"Making sure that we're raising the visibility,” she adds. “These are kids in your neighborhood, and in your school system and at your YMCA."

Recommendations in the report include providing safe environments so children can visit parents more often, and in areas that don't look like prisons.

Volunteers of America runs several pilot programs around the country where the group coaches incarcerated parents and offers coaching and assistance to those caring for the children.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY