Parenting from Behind Bars

Nearly seven percent of children in the United States has had one or more parents who were incarcerated. That’s five million children who have experienced the absence of a parent because of a mandatory jail sentence.

Being behind bars doesn’t mean you stop being a parent. It says you have to develop some creative ways to parent.

Using modern technology

Innovative programs like those developed by the Child and Family Services of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Department of Corrections encourage incarcerated parents to participate actively in their children’s lives. Doing so reassures the child and lessens the likelihood of separation anxiety.

Another program, developed by Lutheran Social Services of the South, is helping incarcerated parents build a bridge between ”life in the free” and the time they spend in incarceration. The organization teaches parenting skills and assists fathers in creating video diaries for their children.

Working within prison requirements

Not all programming is conducive to parenting strategies.

An inmate can’t walk over to the desk in her room and pen a letter to her child. There’s no desk. Unless it’s a minimum security prison, there’s no paper and no pen, either. Those items are considered contraband, and they can only be used under supervision.

Parents who choose to write their children a letter will have to take advantage of the time allotted to them when they are in the library or recreation hall. That can mean developing time management skills and maintaining a level of trust within the prison to use the materials.

Developing a support system

Parenting is no easy job. It’s made all the more difficult from behind bars.

Incarcerated parent need a support system to make sure that both their needs and those of their children are being met. That may mean having access to ongoing professional help, in the form of mental-health experts and social services. Children need access to understanding teachers and regular opportunities for counseling.

Only when both parties’ needs are met can the parent-child relationship be preserved.

Worth the effort

Helping incarcerated adults parent their children from behind bars takes effort, but doing so may lessen the likelihood that their children will also experience prison. According to doctoral candidate in clinical psychology Marie Gillespie, without parental involvement, these children “are up to 5 times more likely to end up in jail or in prison themselves.”

The children of incarcerated parents love their parents unconditionally. Our job is to help their parents be a part of their children’s lives.

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