Welcome to the Parenting Inside Out Blog. Parenting Inside Out (PIO) is a parenting skills training program developed as part of Oregon’s Children of Incarcerated Parents Program. PIO is sold by Pathfinders of Oregon whose mission is break the cycle of criminality.
Pathfinders fulfills its mission in part by working for systemic change. This blog will share information and resources related to children of incarcerated parents and parenting from prison.
Community Works West was one of the first organizations we trained in Parenting Inside Out. They have been teaching PIO in the Bay Area since 2008, and for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2014. We were delighted to see this article about their successful program at Solano Prision: http://bit.ly/2dDoN89.
We congratulate the fathers at Solano who are working hard to be good dads for their children.
In 2003 the San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents published the following Bill of Right for children of incarcerated parents. The Bill of Rights recognizes that children’s needs extend well beyond physical comfort and security. This bill of rights is based on work originally done by Gretchen Newby of Friends Outside, a California organization that addresses the special needs of families affected by incarceration. The following are excerpted from Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights.
1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest.
Many children of offenders are introduced to the criminal justice system when their parent is arrested and they see him/her taken away in handcuffs. The majority of police and sheriff’s departments do not have protocols for dealing with the children of arrested parents; in too many cases, the resulting experience is terrifying and confusing for the children left behind.
2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
When a parent is arrested, children whose chaotic lives may already have left them with little sense of control often feel even more alienated from the events that swirl around them. Adults they have never met remove their parents with little explanation, then decide where the children will go without consulting them.
3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
Ask the child of an incarcerated mother what might have improved his life and his prospects and you’re likely to hear some version of this answer: “Help for my mom.” Even after years of trauma and abandonment, young people are likely to see their parents as troubled and in need of support, rather than as bad and in need of punishment.
4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent’s absence.
When a child loses a single parent to incarceration, she also loses a home. In the most extreme cases, children may wind up fending for themselves in a parent’s absence.
5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
Visiting an incarcerated parent can be difficult and confusing for children. If the parent is in a county jail, the child may have to talk to him on a staticky telephone and look at him through scratched Plexiglas. If he is in prison, the child may have to travel a long distance to spend a few hours in a visiting room full of other prisoners and their families.
6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent’s incarceration.
Children whose parents are imprisoned carry tremendous burdens. No only do they lose the company and care of a parent, they also must deal with the stigma of parental incarceration and fear for their parent’s safety and well-being. Researchers who have interviewed offenders’ children have found them prone to depression, anger and shame. Many young children experience a parent’s arrest as simple abandonment.
7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent’s incarceration.
Incarceration carries with it a tremendous stigma. Because young children identify with their parents, they are likely to internalize this stigma, associating themselves with the labels placed upon their parents and blaming themselves for their parents’ absence.
8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.
Separation is hard on families—but so, paradoxically, is reunion. Recently-released prisoners face an obstacle course of challenges and obligations. They must maintain a relationship with a parole or probation officer; find work and housing despite a criminal record; and struggle to rebuild relationships with friends and family.
Losing a parent to incarceration is a life-changing event. Those who work with children impacted by incarceration can use this Bill of Rights to guide policies and procedures that can help to mitigate some of the trauma and can help children develop the resilience to live positive, prosocial lives.
Research shows that inmates who receive visits during their incarceration have a lower recidivism rate when they return to the community than do inmates who do not receive visits. Parenting Inside Out has a positive impact on visitation for incarcerated parents.
In recently released data, the Parenting Inside Out (PIO) program demonstrated a positive impact on visitation and on building the relationships with family members that result in more visits. Parenting Inside Out is a parenting program developed by the Oregon Social Learning Center and the Oregon Department of Corrections specifically for incarcerated parents. The program has been offered in Oregon’s prisons for ten years.
In a randomized controlled study (half the parents took the class while a control group did not take the class) of 359 inmate mothers and fathers done by the Oregon Social Learning Center, researchers found the following:
- During incarceration, parents who took the Parenting Inside Out class reported significantly more positive parent-child contact;
- For fathers, the PIO group scored higher on the factor that measured the likelihood that they would play an active role with their children after release;
- The PIO group scored higher on factors that measured the inmate’s ease of relationship with their child’s caregiver, with those whose relationships were the most strained prior to the class reporting the greatest improvement;
- The PIO group received more total family visits than did the control group.
Research over many years has shown that inmates who maintain family connections during their incarceration have a higher likelihood of successfully reentering the community. The latest study, published by the Minnesota Department of Corrections late last year, looked at data on 16,420 inmates released from 2003 to 2007. The study found a significant positive impact on reducing recidivism for inmates who received visits during their incarceration.
While criminal justice involved parents love their children, many recognize that they can benefit from learning how to be good parents. In a study of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI), Urban Institute researchers asked participants what they needed to succeed in the community; 61% of them listed parenting skills.
Parenting Inside Out is an evidence-based program that helps parents develop parenting skills. For example, PIO gives parents tools to improve their communication with their children through letter writing, phone calls and visits. Visits, in particular, can be very stressful for parents. In class, parents create specific plans for upcoming visits and conversations (with children and with their children’s caregivers). They then role play their plans with peers and get feedback from them and from the parenting coach. Following the visit, parents can debrief in the PIO class and further examine what worked, what didn’t and what they want to do going forward. Practicing real skills gives inmates a “parenting toolbox” they can use while they are incarcerated and when they return home.
2.3 million children have a parent in state or federal prison.
Children suffer when their parents go to prison. They experience:
- Parental loss. Separation from a parent for any reason can be traumatic for children (Lowenstein 1986; Miller 2006).
- Stigma and Shame. Caregivers may tell children to keep their parent’s imprisonment secret. Schoolmates tease. (Fritsch and Burkhead 1981; Sherman 1993)
- New Living Arrangements. Up to 29% of children are separated from siblings as a result of parental arrest (Harm and Thompson, 1995). Another study found only one in eleven older children of prisoners had lived continuously with a primary caregiver since birth (Johnston, 1991).
- Increased poverty. Children who lose a parent to prison further suffer by losing that parent’s income, difficult for families already living in poverty (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994)
Parental incarceration impacts already vulnerable children – a parent’s imprisonment may represent just one risk factor to a child’s healthy development within a larger family context of drug abuse, violence, crime and disadvantage (Wright and Seymour 2000).
Having a parent who is or has been jailed, imprisoned, on parole or probation is linked to worse outcomes for the children than any other single factor, including involvement with the child welfare system or homelessness. Such children face:
- A doubled risk of mental health problems (Phillips and Gleeson 2007)
- Foster care – 41% of children inOregon’s foster care system have a parent who is a convicted felon (Oregon DHS data).
- Trouble in school with below-average academic performance (Stanton 1980), leading to increased drop out rates (Trice & Brewster 2004).
- A higher likelihood of committing crimes as adults (Murray and Farrington 2005).
- 80 percent of the children need state services including mental health, child welfare, alcohol/drug, and juvenile rehabilitation services (Nearing, et al. 2008).
Over the coming months this blog will provide updates on the issues facing families impacted by involvement in the criminal justice system and will share research and innovative programs addressing those issues.
We believe it is possible to break the cycle of intergenerational criminality, stabilize families involved in the criminal justice system and help children lead healthy, prosocial lives.