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Thousands of ND Kids Affected by Parents' Incarceration

Thousands of North Dakota children are facing greater challenges in life due to a parent's incarceration, according to a new report. (iStockphoto)
Thousands of North Dakota children are facing greater challenges in life due to a parent's incarceration, according to a new report. (iStockphoto)
April 25, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. – Some tough-on-crime policies may be having unintended consequences for thousands of North Dakota children, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

It says children of incarcerated parents face more serious roadblocks to opportunities in life.

The report says about 10,000 North Dakota children, or 7 percent, have a parent who has spent time in prison, which often means more emotional and financial problems than other children.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, says that can have long-term negative effects.

"They're losing their parent in those critical years of child development and so, there are some long-standing impacts,” he points out. “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 suggests several changes North Dakota can make to ease the burden on families, including job training in prison, and enacting a ban the box law that puts some restrictions on when employers can ask about criminal backgrounds on job applications.

The report says having an incarcerated parent can be just as emotionally damaging for some children as abuse or domestic violence.

Spencer says state lawmakers could help by backing new ways for these families to access financial, legal, child care and housing assistance.

"As much as we may focus on the issue of changing incarceration laws, while we're doing that, we also look for ways to be supportive of the children and the families who are left behind during that incarceration period," he urges.

The report notes that nationally about 5 million children are separated from a parent because of a prison sentence.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND