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Advocates Seek Help, Support for AR Children of Jailed Parents

Advocates say children with a parent in jail can lose touch with them when they only get to visit with them monthly or less often. (Wikimedia Commons)
Advocates say children with a parent in jail can lose touch with them when they only get to visit with them monthly or less often. (Wikimedia Commons)
December 29, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A group of children's advocates has begun talking with legislators to find ways to keep Arkansas families together when a parent is convicted of a crime.

Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind is looking to find alternatives to putting parents behind bars when there is no one to care for their children.

Lee Ann Newell, director of Arkansas Voices, says at least 72,000 kids in the state currently have one or both parents in jail, and children's lives are falling through the cracks.

"We've been doing a lot of Legislative initiatives over the years, but this year we have got to directly attack the fact that we are locking up so many parents of minor-age children with nothing to help the children," she says.

Newell says her group will be asking legislators to develop alternatives to incarceration for parents, such as ankle monitors, supervised home detention or weekends only in jail. She says in addition to acting as advocates, the group also provides counseling and other support services to the children, their caregivers and their incarcerated parents.

Newell says nationwide, there are almost 3 million kids with incarcerated parents. That is 1 in 28 American children, but the rate is higher among minorities, with 1 in 9 African-American kids affected. About half of the children are under 10 years old, and almost all of them live in poverty. She says in Arkansas, the foster care system is only able to place about 1,000 of these kids a year in temporary homes.

"It's really a drop in the bucket compared to the number of children, statewide, who are not in foster care, and whose families, relatives, friends, neighbors - whoever has stepped forward - are really taking care of the balance of those children," she laments.

Arkansas Voices began in 1994 as a grassroots coalition of 32 groups to build awareness of the growing number of incarcerated parents and their children. Arkansas Voices is funded mainly through private donations and foundation grants.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR