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69,000 Commonwealth Kids with Parents in Prison

Five percent of kids in Massachusetts grow up missing a parent who is incarcerated and a new report examines what can be done to make the experience less traumatic for children. (Matt Crampton)
Five percent of kids in Massachusetts grow up missing a parent who is incarcerated and a new report examines what can be done to make the experience less traumatic for children. (Matt Crampton)
April 25, 2016

BOSTON - About 69,000 children in the Commonwealth are growing up with a parent who is or has been incarcerated, and a new report says that can have a long-lasting impact on their well-being. A parent behind bars can affect the emotional and financial stability of kids and families.

Megan Sullivan is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning at Boston University. She supports the recommendations in the new Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

"First of all, that's there's a focus on supporting children when parents are incarcerated and afterward. This is new," says Sullivan. "Up until now, we have generally only looked at children while their parents are incarcerated, because we focused on incarceration, not on the family and the children. "

Sullivan just edited a new book about Parental Incarceration and its developmental impacts. The Casey Foundation report says children separated from a parent in prison experience trauma similar to abuse or domestic violence. It says five percent of children in The Commonwealth have an incarcerated parent, versus seven percent of kids nationally.

A parent's challenges continue even after their release, so the report notes prison time often destabilizes kids and families longer-term.

Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence for the Casey Foundation says there are steps the state could take to help ease the re-entry burdens of finding jobs and places to live.

"State and local governments should provide incentives for housing authorities and private landlords to lift restrictions on people with records," Spencer says. "So that families can remain in or access safe and affordable housing."

The report, called "A Shared Sentence," also recommends connecting parents with job training and placement assistance, and says families need more help accessing counseling and other community services.

The report is on the web at aecf.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA