Are Children of Incarcerated Parents Society's Throwaways?
Recently, I was sitting in a business meeting with a group that helps formerly incarcerated people and at-risk youth. The director informed me he was preparing to meet with the local school district to ask what is being done to help kids of incarcerated parents. I responded, "You will hear crickets; we are society's throwaways." After a gasp from another person in the meeting, I described how society treats children of incarcerated parents like they do not matter: lack of mental health support, unrealistic expectations, lack of financial resources. There are so many resources for other causes, but with 2.7 million children impacted by a parental incarceration, the resources are scarce.
According to prisonpolicy.org, 47% of the approximately 1.25 million people in state prison are parents of minor children, and roughly 19% of those children are age four or younger. These children are more likely to end up in foster care or placed with a relative. These children are more likely to face financial burdens due to the potential loss of income from an incarcerated parent. According to Child Trends, these children are more likely to:
Have parents divorce or separate (57% vs. 17.3%)
Experience parental death (9.8% vs. 2.6%)
Experience domestic abuse (36.9% vs. 5.1%)
Experience neighborhood violence (32.7% vs. 6.8%)
Have a mental illness and/or suicidal ideation (27.8% vs. 7.2%)
Have substance use problems (54.7% vs. 7.4%)
Face racial discrimination (8.1% vs. 3.8%)
Be expelled from school (23% vs. 4%)
Not graduate from college (15% vs. 40%)
And so on! Children of incarcerated parents are innocent. These children do not cease to exist, but remain in the crevices of society. What are we doing to ensure children of incarcerated parents are no longer treated like society's throwaways? What are you doing?
Initiative, P. P. Both sides of the bars: How mass incarceration punishes families. Prison Policy Initiative. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2022/08/11/parental_incarceration/
Murphy, David, and P. Mae Cooper. Rep. Parents behind bars: What happens to their children? Child TRENDS, 2015.