What About the Children?

Last night, both of my children went to sleep many miles away from us, their parents. They were in safe, comfortable surroundings and fell asleep secure in the knowledge that they are deeply loved and that we are here for them, accessible and available any time they need us for anything.

Last night, approximately three million other American children went to sleep many miles away from one or both of their parents, with no way to contact their parents, and no way for their parents to help them with much of anything. Many of these children haven’t even seen their parents for months, maybe even for years . . . because their parents are in jail or in prison.

Nell Bernstein, author of All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated, writes,
“These children have committed no crime, but the penalty they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too often, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection.

“Their lives and prospects are profoundly affected by the numerous institutions that lay claim to their parents – police, courts, jails and prisons, probation and parole – but they have no rights, explicit or implicit, within any of these jurisdictions.

“Conversely, there is no requirement that systems serving children – schools, child welfare departments, juvenile justice agencies – so much as take note of parental incarceration.”

These children are the most at-risk in our society. In addition to the trauma of being separated from their parent, they are at greater risk of poor performance in school, health and mental health issues, dropout, violence and gang involvement. And research indicates that up to 70% of children who have had one or more parents incarcerated may eventually wind up incarcerated themselves.

Here in Lancaster County, a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals has formed the Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIP) Network to examine issues facing local children whose parents are or have been incarcerated. The coalition includes representatives from:
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Trinity Lutheran Church
Justice & Mercy
Crispus Attucks
Kon-necting Services
Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO)

Though there are many challenges in determining how many of our own children here in Lancaster County have a parent in jail, or state or federal prison, national statistics would suggest that over 12,500 Lancaster County children have a parent who is either incarcerated or on probation or parole.

What about these children? How might our schools, our houses of worship, our neighborhoods, and each of us reach out to them, to care for them and to help ensure a better future for them? Please join the COIP Network of Lancaster in our efforts to help the children of incarcerated parents. Contact Bob Cooper at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Melanie Snyder at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Next Sunday, August 14, 2011, there will be an event to raise awareness of the issues facing these vulnerable children here in Lancaster County.

Please mark your calendars and plan to stop by the first COIP Awareness Event. Here are the details:

Sunday, Aug 14, 2011
Noon until 6pm
6th Ward Park
Hamilton & Ross Streets, Lancaster

I’ll be there. So will others from the community who are deeply concerned about the future of our children in Lancaster County. We hope to see you there!


Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Parents (from Urban Institute)

List of links and resources related to children of prisoners (from Family & Corrections Network – FCN)

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa restorative justice criminal justice

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