- Report Published -
|The Study of the Needs of Children Whose Parents are Incarcerated|
|Virginia Commission on Youth|
|HJR 218 (Regular Session, 1992)|
|The most significant finding of the study is the absence of information regarding the number and conditions of those children in Virginia whose parents are incarcerated. This population of Virginia's children falls between the gaps of the correctional, child welfare, education and mental health agencies, yet they often come into contact with all these agencies for other reasons. Correctional and law enforcement agencies do not see the families of inmates and/or arrested individuals as their responsibility, and while other systems may be engaged with the child for a variety of reasons, the factor of parental incarceration is not identified. Therefore, we currently have no way of precisely identifying the number of children in Virginia whose parents are involved with the correctional system in either institutional or community settings. However, through extrapolation from national studies and application of these findings to Virginia, we estimate there are 13,704 children with incarcerated parents and an additional 16,990 children whose parents are on some form of correctional supervision. When added together, we estimate there are 30,694 minor children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system. (*1) The majority of these children are between the ages of seven and twelve.|
Law enforcement does not routinely inquire about the presence of minor children when an arrest takes place away from the home and correctional staff has marginal involvement with the offender's family. Schools and other community agencies are often unaware of the parent's status. Even when the presence of minor children is known, communication across correctional and community-based programs (such as schools, community mental health and social services) serving the child and family are limited at best. Because these children are not identified in any systematic way, service providers are at a loss in acknowledging the impact parental incarceration has on the child and the remaining family unit.
The crisis of incarceration on the family unit often affects their economic status, living environment, and family structure. The needs of the children throughout this process are often not the focus of the family nor of the service providers who are turned to for assistance. As a result, the needs of these children in coping with parental incarceration is ignored.
In addition, there are both crisis or short-term physical and psychological needs of children that must be addressed at the time of arrest and the long-term need for stability for the child throughout their parent's involvement with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, there are no statewide systems or service models in place to ensure these needs are addressed.
The majority of these children do go to live with relatives but their legal status in terms of custody and who has authority to make decisions on their parent's behalf is unclear. The adults who are placed in the care-taking roles with these children are often overwhelmed with the financial and the personal responsibility of providing for these children.
A few of these children enter into the foster care system solely due to the parent's incarceration. More typically, the parental behavior was such that the home was found to unfit and incarceration for these behaviors (i.e. drug distribution) then followed. For those children who enter foster care, there are additional issues regarding the incarcerated parent's ability to participate in the foster care plan while under correctional custody.
Clearly the jail and prison populations are growing and show no signs of abating in the near future. With the increase in number of female inmates, it is a certainty that there will be increasing numbers of children living in all communities across the state whose parents are incarcerated. In attempting to respond to the needs of the children whose parents are incarcerated, the Commonwealth must reaffirm its belief that children should be served and judged on their own merits and not by the actions of their parents.
On the basis of its findings, the Commission on Youth offers the following recommendations in the areas of a.) data collection, b.) information development and dissemination, c.) training for system professionals, d.) service delivery, and e.) policy revisions:
The Department of Corrections is requested to develop a mechanism to accurately gather information on the number of inmates in both prison and jail settings with minor, dependent children. The Department of Corrections is further requested to report on their plans to collect this information to the Commission on Youth in November 1993.
Information Development and Dissemination:
The Children's Resource Center, in cooperation with the Departments of Social Services, Education, Mental Health; Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, Corrections, Youth and Family Services, Health and local law enforcement and prison visitation services, is requested to develop age-appropriate material for children of incarcerated parents that explains the various phases of the criminal justice system. In addition, the Children's Resource Center is requested to investigate sources of private foundation funding for the printing and dissemination costs of the material and to develop a plan for dissemination through the schools, local departments of social services, Circuit and District courts, jail and correctional facilities, and law enforcement agencies. The Children's Resource Center is further requested to report on the status of this project to the Commission on Youth in November 1993.
The Children's Resource Center, in cooperation with the Departments of Social Services, Corrections, Youth and Family Services, and local law enforcement agencies, is requested to develop information packets on the phases of the criminal justice system and the sources of public aid available for the caretakers of children with incarcerated parents. In addition, the Children's Resource Center is requested to investigate sources of private foundation funding for the printing and dissemination costs of the material and to develop a plan for dissemination through local departments of social services, schools, and General and District courts. The Children's Resource Center is to report on the status of the project to the Commission on Youth in November 1993.
The Department of Social Services, in collaboration with the Department of Corrections, is requested to develop an informational packet for inmates explaining state custody laws and foster care. This information should be distributed through the local courts, jails, and prisons.
Training for Service System Professionals:
The Departments of Social Services, Education, Corrections, Youth and Family Services, and Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services are requested to develop and deliver in-service training to promote the awareness of the impact of parental incarceration on children.
Fund a "case advocate" program in selected localities that would pilot model law enforcement procedures, information dissemination techniques, professional training and linkage of children of incarcerated parents and their caretakers with community resources.
The Commission on Health Care, in collaboration with the Secretaries of Public Safety and Health and Human Resources, is requested to formulate a strategy to improve the availability and accessibility of medical services to pregnant inmates in jails and prison facilities.
The Executive Management Council of the Comprehensive Services Act is requested to incorporate parental incarceration as a risk factor affecting children as it applies to the Comprehensive Services Act initiative as well as additional prevention/early intervention programs funded by the child-serving agencies participating in the Act.
The Department of Social Services is requested to amend their Child Support Enforcement Procedures to exclude inmates, who prior to incarceration were the primary custodial parent, from receiving Administrative Support Orders while incarcerated.
The Department of Criminal Justice services is requested to develop standards for law enforcement officers dealing with the identification of minor children and the handling of emergency placement of these children when arresting their parents.
Further study should be conducted on the issue of legal custody and entrustment of children to caretakers as a result of parental incarceration.
The "Consent to Exchange Information Form" shall be used by those agencies working with the incarcerated parent and their children.
(*1) These numbers do not include the minor children of inmates incarcerated in the federal or military correctional system nor the children whose parents are under the supervision of the Virginia Department of Youth and Family Services.