CIPs: Did you know?…

Did You Know?

Children of incarcerated parents are an invisible population receiving little attention despite alarming numbers of children affected: one in 9 African American children, one in 28 Latino children, and one in 57 white children.[ii]   International human rights advocates have called parental incarceration “the greatest threat to child well-being in the U.S.”[iii]

To get more information, see The Osborne Association’s Issue Brief #1


  • Take the SEE US, SUPPORT US pledge which provides concrete steps for learning more; susu
  • Download and read Stronger Together, Volume I from the Osborne website to learn more about children’s experiences when a parent is incarcerated
  • Find out of your organization’s intake currently asks about parental incarceration as a factor affecting the families you are working with; if not, contact us to explore sensitively adding it


Whole article: Did You Know?

Children of incarcerated parents are an invisible population receiving little attention despite alarming numbers of children affected: one in 9 African American children, one in 28 Latino children, and one in 57 white children.[ii]   International human rights advocates have called parental incarceration “the greatest threat to child well-being in the U.S.”[iii]   In order to support positive outcomes for children and families it is critical to know whether parental incarceration is a factor affecting the children and family’s life and well-bring. When this topic is broached sensitively and non-judgmentally, important conversations can happen such as exploring what kind of contact with the incarcerated parent the child would like, providing a safe and supportive place for the child and caregiver to talk about this highly stigmatized issue, creating a service plan and making referrals to supportive services, and more. Due to the stigma around incarceration, it is important that practitioners include mention of incarceration with all families and do so proactively, as part of an assessment which explores other factors such as family composition, employment, housing stability, substance use.  Non-verbal signals can also let families know that yours is a safe and welcoming environment to discuss this issue: posters of the Children of Incarcerated Parents’ Bill of Rights and children’s books about parental incarceration can be in your office and at your organization/ agency.   When people interacting with these children and youth ask them supportively about their full selves, opportunities to support them can be identified, resources can be allocated, professional competencies can be built, and services can be developed and delivered.


Did You Know?

Parental incarceration is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Parental incarceration increases the risk of children experiencing long term negative health and mental health outcomes, academic problems, poverty, household instability, homelessness, and infant mortality.[i] Alarmingly, the incarceration rate of women has increased 203% from 1995 to 2008.[ii] This dramatic increase also means that more children than ever are separated from their primary caregiver due to incarceration (more incarcerated women than incarcerated men were their children’s primary caregiver prior to incarceration). This has huge ripple effects including instability and additional risk factors for children, as well as the risk of termination of parental rights for mothers as they are hindered in planning for their children, and face enormous barriers in communicating with foster care agencies and are dependent on others to see their children. [iii] Given the rippling, damaging effects that separating a child from his or her mother or father due to incarceration can have, every effort should be made to avoid this.

Issue Brief #2  Reducing Parent-Child Separation due to Mass Incarceration



Did You Know?

Separation due to a parent’s incarceration can be as painful as other forms of parental loss and can be even more complicated because of the stigma that accompanies it, and the lack of social support and compassion associated with it.[i] Families are often afraid to disclose that a loved one is incarcerated due to the biases and assumptions people have about the incarcerated. This is true even in communities with high rates of incarceration: stigma remains and its weight is heavy. A recent study found that teachers had lower expectations for students when they found out they had an incarcerated mother.[1] Parental incarceration does not define a child nor should it limit their future options. Contrary to damaging unfounded research, most children with incarcerated parents do not become incarcerated themselves.[2] In fact, children are incredibly resilient, strong in the shadows, and overcoming challenges on their own, daily. Research is needed about what helped them along the way, about what works and where to invest resources. With support not stigma, children will have bright and healthy futures; we need to look to them to tell us what they need and then work together to deliver it!

Issue Brief #3  Combating Stigma


What You Can Do


Did You Know?

Visiting is often viewed from the perspective of whether children should go to a prison or jail, rather than from a child’s eye view and an attachment lens. Most children want and need to see their incarcerated parent and in most cases visiting is beneficial to children’s well-being.[i] Maintaining a connection with an incarcerated parent, including visits, can decrease a child’s emotional distress and negative behaviors.[ii] Visiting provides the forum for children to process the trauma surrounding the separation from their parents in ways that can reduce children’s feelings of guilt, responsibility, and concern for their parent’s safety. [iii][iv]  Visiting is also a critical support for those who are incarcerated and is associated with reduced recidivism rates.


Despite the critical importance of visiting for most children, 70% of incarcerated individuals in NYS are in prisons over 100 miles from their homes, making distance among the top barriers to visiting. Currently, the NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision does not consider proximity to children when making decisions about prison assignment.[v] Many prisons are in isolated rural areas that are inaccessible by public transportation. [Costs associated with travelling to facilities are burdensome, pushing families into debt and preventing visits from happening regularly, if at all.[vi] While distance is a challenging factor, the importance of visits for children’s well-being cannot be overstated and visiting should not be sacrificed due to systemic obstacles. Children’s experiences with visiting can be greatly improved with preparation, support, and debriefing.

Issue Brief #4  Visiting



Did You Know?


Children with incarcerated parents can benefit enormously from connecting with other children experiencing the same kind of ambiguous and highly stigmatized loss. Peer support groups provide a safe space for young people to share personal experiences, successes, and challenges with non-judgmental peers who also experience the incarceration of a parent and with caring, trained adult facilitators. Peer support can help reduce feelings of isolation and shame, and help youth process the trauma of separation, overcome stigma, and develop or strengthen their positive identities.[i]


Supports for the caregivers caring for children with incarcerated parents are also critical. Caregivers are often overlooked and the stigma they face can prevent them from seeking help. It takes a village to raise a child: the better we can support caregivers, the better they can support the children they are raising. • Watch Caring Through Struggle on the Echoes of Incarceration

Issue Brief #5  Connecting Children to Each Other: The Importance of Peer Support 28




Richard Ross has spent nearly a decade documenting the lives of incarcerated kids.  Click HERE to read more about the sad facts of juvenile incarceration.



There are currently more than 60,000 individuals under the age of 21 locked behind bars in the United States.

Sparks’ mission is to keep our students from adding to this statistic.  We are helping our students develop the life skills they need to make better life choicesbefore they get into trouble.



January 2015

While it is difficult for a young child to understand and deal with a parent’s incarceration, this story allows us to see how a father’s incarceration negatively affects his adult son, even after that son has directed his own path to one of success.




April 2014

Leigh Sprague, “former lawyer and current white collar criminal” says this:

The simple fact is that I am guilty and deserve to be punished – that’s easy for me to accept and acknowledge. What is hard for me to accept is that my innocent children are suffering alongside of me as a result of my wrongdoing.  No good parent wants to harm their children; that is the ultimate betrayal. Yet by my actions, I have hurt my children – those I would give my life for, those I vowed to love and protect – perhaps irrevocably.

This and more links to Leigh Sprague’s articles and blogs can be found here.



March 2015

What does it cost to incarcerate one youth in Texas?  According to The Justice Policy Institute in their Factsheet dated March 2015, the numbers are astounding.

ONE DAY:    $437.11

ONE YEAR: $159,545

To read the whole article and to find out what juvenile detention costs in other states, click here.