African-American children are nine times more likely and Hispanic children three times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. Thanks go to the State of Idaho for assembling a national fact sheet, which gives us a snapshot of the plight of these children who are often the forgotten victims of crime. The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is eight years old; 22 percent of the children are under the age of five. And there’s more bad news. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57 percent compared to 34 percent for men. Since the majority of single parents are women, this means that more kids are being forced into foster care. Ten percent of incarcerated mothers have a child in a foster home or other state care.
So how do these children fair? The social stigma alone is devastating. Factor in the strong likelihood that these children live in poverty, experience ongoing “residential mobility,” and predictably, we find they will also manifest negative school behavior and performance issues. Sadly there is a good chance that once a parent goes to prison their children are lost to them forever. Reunification is 21 percent for children of incarcerated mothers versus 40 percent for all children, and the adoption rate is 37 percent for children of incarcerated mothers versus 27 percent for all children. It is little wonder that these kids have significant anger issues to deal with.
Hope for children of incarcerated parents comes in the form of an organization in New York City, Children of Promise, established in 2006. With the goal of embracing and empowering children of incarcerated parents, the nonprofit has aided over 200 children in the metropolitan area since its inception. An after-school program, a mentoring program, and therapeutic and family services are offered at the center along with connection with incarcerated parents.
Transportation to area prisons, video connection and letter writing all help to keep children and parents in touch with each other. This service alone reduces child anger and helps maintain emotional connections between kids and their parents.
Almost three million children in America have at least one parent in jail. Two hundred of them have been helped by Children of Promise in NYC. Why doesn’t your state or community have a Children of Promise program? Perhaps it’s up to you to start one.