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When Parents Go to Jail, Children Suffer

A parent's incarceration can have the same emotional impact as abuse, domestic violence or divorce on a child. (bluemix/pixabay)
A parent's incarceration can have the same emotional impact as abuse, domestic violence or divorce on a child. (bluemix/pixabay)
April 25, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. – Thousands of children have experienced one or both parents serving time in prison and a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at the negative effects on the lives of these children and what can be done to lessen them.

More than 5 million American children, including 36,000 in Connecticut, have seen a parent they live with go to jail or prison.

According to Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, the impact on a child can be devastating.

"Having a parent incarcerated can be a lifelong experience,” he states. “It has the same magnitude of impact as abuse, domestic violence and divorce."

The Casey Foundation's report, "A Shared Silence," outlines policy recommendations to help children and parents cope with incarceration, and with reintegration as a family after a release from prison.

Roger Senserrich, policy director at the Connecticut Association for Human Services, says there are some simple steps Connecticut could take to help children of incarcerated parents.

Right now, he explains, visiting hours are during the school day, and prisons have a no contact rule.

"Even small kids cannot hug their parents or their mothers when they visit,” he explains. “So, these kinds of changes are small but can be really powerful, and they can really improve the bond that parents develop with their kids."

The Casey Foundation says schools, child welfare agencies and community organizations can help by offering programs that foster children's mental health and well being.

Passing the ban the box bill now in the General Assembly would help parents provide for their families after their release.

As Spencer points out, other states have passed similar laws removing questions about criminal convictions from employment applications.

"They defer the question about a person's record to the conditional employment stage, so that they have more stable footing to be able to apply for the job and qualify for the job," he explains.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT