When parents are incarcerated, what are some ways we can support children and families?
This resource list provides examples of innovative approaches to serving children and families involved with child welfare who are affected by parental incarceration. It offers key strategies and tools for agencies and organizations that assist families with incarcerated parents; resources that summarize the impact of parental incarceration on children’s development, family well-being, and other outcomes; and sources of national and state statistics on parental incarceration and child welfare.
Promising practices and effective frameworks
In 2015, the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) released a framework document that synthesizes the lessons learned regarding the impact of parental incarceration on children. The framework highlights a range of promising and innovative practices designed to mitigate the trauma children experience when a parent is arrested, detained, and sentenced, as well as to strengthen parent–child relationships after a parent’s criminal justice involvement:
- Children of Incarcerated Parents Framework Document: Promising Practices, Challenges, and Recommendations for the Field
Following the release of this framework, the Urban Institute and the NIC also hosted a webinar series highlighting promising and innovative programs and practices in several community-based organizations and government agencies across the country:
- Promising and Innovative Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents: Arrest through Pre-Adjudication
A number of other promising approaches and toolkits are provided below.
Key strategies and tools
National Mentoring Resource Center, OJJDP, Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents (2016)
This review examines research on mentoring for children of incarcerated parents.
National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, Working With Incarcerated Children And Their Parents (2013)
This 85-minute webinar for state foster care managers featured presentations from Iowa and New York, which addressed innovative projects and child welfare system collaborations with Departments of Corrections.
Office of The Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Parenting from Prison: Innovative Programs to Support Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers (2010)
This brief describes elements of the Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage, and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers and Their Partners evaluation, highlighting both implementation findings and innovative parenting supports provided to incarcerated and reentering fathers and their families.
Urban Institute, Toolkit for Developing Family-Focused Jail Programs: Children of Incarcerated Parents Project (2015)
This toolkit and the strategies and experiences it describes are intended for people interested in developing family-focused jail programs in their own jurisdictions, including jail practitioners and community-based organizations working with jail administrators and detainees.
Urban Institute, Toolkit for Developing Family Impact Statements: Children of Incarcerated Parents Project (2015)
This toolkit and the strategies and experiences it describes are intended for people interested in developing family impact statements in their own jurisdictions, including probation department officials and community-based organizations working with probation departments.
Urban Institute, Toolkit for Developing Parental Arrest Policies: Children of Incarcerated Parents Project (2015)
This toolkit and the strategies and experiences described are intended for people who are interested in developing parental arrest programs in their own jurisdictions, such as law enforcement officials, as well as community-based organizations and human services agencies working with law enforcement agencies.
Sesame Workshop, Sesame Street Toolkit: Little Children, Big Challenges (2013)
This bilingual (English/Spanish) initiative helps families with young children (ages 3–8) who have an incarcerated parent continue to develop skills for resilience.
Vera Institute of Justice, A New Role for Technology? Implementing Video Visitation in Prison (2016)
This study examines the current use of, and future plans to implement, video visitation through a first-ever survey of all 50 state Departments of Corrections.
Three national websites provide a collection of resources on this topic:
Finally, these resources summarize the impact of parental incarceration on children’s development, family well-being, and other outcomes:
Child Trends, Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children? (2015)
This report uses the National Survey of Children’s Health to examine both the prevalence of parental incarceration and child outcomes associated with it.
Miller, Weston, Perryman, Horwitz, Franzen & Cochran, Parenting While Incarcerated: Tailoring the Strengthening Families Program for use with jailed mothers. Children and Youth Services Review, 44 (2014) 163–170.
The study explores an evidence-based parenting intervention (the Strengthening Families Program) tailored to and implemented with women in a jail setting.
National Institute of Justice, The Hidden Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on Dependent Children (2017)
This article summarizes the range of risk factors facing children of incarcerated parents, cautioning against universal policy solutions that seek to address these risk factors but do not take into account the child’s unique needs, the child’s relationship with the incarcerated parent, and alternative support systems.
Office of The Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation, U.S. Department Of Health & Human Services, ASPE Research Brief: Multi-Site Family Study on Incarceration, Parenting and Partnering (2016)
This brief presents data on parent-child relationships before, during, and after incarceration from the Multisite Family Study on Incarceration, Parenting and Partnering (MFSIP). The study includes implementation and impact evaluations and qualitative and quantitative analyses of participants in programs funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provide services to incarcerated fathers and their families.
Shaw, Bright & Sharpe, Child welfare outcomes for youth in care as a result of parental death or parental incarceration. Child Abuse & Neglect, 42 (2015) 112–120
This study compares the time to achieve permanency for youth in foster care as a result of parental death or youth in foster care as a result of parental incarceration with that of youth in care because of child maltreatment.
The Sentencing Project, Parents in Prison (2012)
This fact sheet provides information on parents in prison and policies that impede their ability to care for their children when released.
National and state statistics
These sources offer statistics on parental incarceration and child welfare:
Rutgers University, National Resource Center on Children & Families of the Incarcerated, Children and Families of the Incarcerated Fact Sheet (2014)
This fact sheet highlights the demographics of children who have parents that are incarcerated.
The Osborne Association, New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, See Us, Support Us: Identifying and Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents in Child Welfare (2016)
In 2015, NYCIP launched See Us, Support Us to raise awareness about children with incarcerated parents and the need for better data collection by child welfare agencies. Point-in-time data was collected to estimate how many children in foster care served by the child welfare agency and its provider agencies had an incarcerated parent. Qualitative data was also gathered to provide insight into the challenges agencies experience in identifying and supporting children of incarcerated parents.