COPING WITH INCARCERATION
Supporting Children Experiencing Parental Incarceration
The effect of parental incarceration on children can take many different forms. Because incarceration leads to the absence of that family member, children often experience grief from missing that person.
How does incarceration affect children?
Although their incarcerated parent may be physically safe, children are likely to experience this event as a loss since they are left without the presence of an important figure in their lives. This can cause a child to feel confusion and concern for the well-being of the parent, as well as a deep sense of shame related to the criminal conduct.
Incarceration can significantly alter a family structure and a child’s expectations for the future. For children who live with another relative, the absence of a parent can result in greater financial burdens on the caregiver and raises the risk of financial lawsuits that can place more stress on a family. For children of incarcerated parents, the grieving process can manifest in a number of forms across different stages of development.
How can you help?
Parental incarceration can result in a child feeling ashamed to talk about this aspect of their family. To help navigate these challenges, Rainbows’ programs emphasize facilitator role modeling and instilling an atmosphere of mutual respect in the way they interact with children and encouraging respectful behaviors, such as active listening, between other participants. These interactions can help children feel less alone in these experiences and overcome the shame they may feel when talking about their family life with friends.
Through firsthand observation, facilitators can recognize an individual child’s challenges and emotions and encourage them to develop positive, healthy responses. As mentors, they aim to help children think about the grieving process, understand reasons for their feelings and behaviors and adopt appropriate responses rather than destructive ones.
How does Rainbows provide support?
Rainbows for All Children has a specially designed curriculum for pre-school, K–8 and high school-aged youth experiencing parental incarceration.
Our programs empower children in the following ways:
• Develop and strengthen problem-solving skills
• Prevent destructive behaviors such as involvement with gangs, alcohol and substance abuse
• Improve school attendance and academic performance
• Alleviate depression and anxiety
• Enhance communications between children and their families and peers.
With trained facilitators and uniquely designed programs, Rainbows has become one of the largest international organizations providing children support as they grieve and grow after loss.
Tips to Support Children When a Parent is In Prison
Published by Dr. Mortoma. KidsMates Inc. works to destigmatize parental incarceration and provide initiatives that foster resilience in children with incarcerated parents.
Project Avary supports children nationally who have a parent that is incarcerated with support groups (similar to Rainbows but specific to incarceration loss).
7 Helpful Programs for Children of Incarcerated Parents
by ConnectNetwork GTL
This list includes a series of programs offered by nonprofit organizations, the government and local communities.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: Tools, Guides, & Resources
This page provides a continually-updated list of tools, guides, and resources to assist teachers, school staff, youth, parents, and youth-serving organizations in caring for and supporting children who have an incarcerated parent.
The Children of Incarcerated Parents Library
This Library contains a number of pamphlets that contain helpful information for incarcerated fathers and those that serve them. Topics include how to prepare a child for a prison visit to how to tell a child that their father is incarcerated. In English and Castilian [a Spanish dialect].
Resources for Children of Prisoners
by Prison Fellowship
This website provides a list of books, programming, and additional resources for children between 3 and 10+.
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated
This organization provides information and resources to children and families of the incarcerated and helps connect them with national, state, and local programs. For this reason we are not able to become what they needed to be because of some reason or another.
This link provides information and additional resources for parents and caregivers, school administration and teachers, and mental health professionals working with children of incarcerated parents.
SKIP, Inc. Community Resource Services
This organization provides programs and services for children with incarcerated parents and their caregivers to improve their academic success and mental and physical health.
The Heroin Epidemic Relief Foundation
This organization provides relief to families affected by the heroin epidemic while supporting pieces of legislation that deal with the issue as well.
Resources on how to help a child of incarcerated parents.
- Caring for Children of Incarcerated Parents
- Questions from Caregivers
- What Do Children of Incarcerated Parents and their Caregivers Need?
- Tips for Caregivers—from Caregivers
- Questions Children Ask
“Programs for Children of Incarcerated Parents”
“Children of Incarcerated Parents: Tools, Guides, and Resources”
Children of Incarcerated Parents Library from the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated
Articles and Educational Brochures
Natural Beach Living
Visual Cards for Managing Feelings and Emotions Free Printables
Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Parents
by Nancy G. La Vigne, Elizabeth Davies, and Diana Brazzell
This article explains how the service community should continue to provide programs to strengthen parent-child relationships that focus on supporting the caregivers, family members, and communities affected by parental incarceration.
Why Children With Parents in Prison Are Especially Burdened
by Amy Alexander
This article highlights the various impacts on children’s psychological health when they have a parent in prison, and offers potential solutions to promote educational awareness and help children through the challenges they face.
- How To Explain A Parent’s Arrest To A Child
- How to Explain Jails and Prisons to Children (A Caregiver’s Guide)
- Talking About Difficult Topics
Parent in Prison: How to Protect the Well-Being of the Child
*Note: not all books only fall under the ages they are listed under. Some with a * can work for older ages as well.
List of children’s books dealing with incarceration: https://www.nh.gov/nhdoc/fcc/documents/fccbooklist01.pdf
The Healing Code: 6 Minutes to Heal the Source of Your Health, Success, or Relationship Issue
by Ben Johnson
Your healing kit for life—to recover from issues you know about, and repair the ones’ you don’t.
Buy the book here
by Richard Dyches, illustrated by Edwin Garcia and Roger Sheffer
This story is about Doogie, a young boy, and his sister whose father is sent to prison. It explores their feelings of loss, fear, and frustration at not being told what’s going on until their mother finally takes them to visit their dad in prison.
Mama Loves Me from Away*
By Pat Brisson, illustrated by Laurie Caple
The story of a young girl, now loving with her grandmother, who looks forward to visiting her mother in prison every Sunday. Prison is never mentioned; the focus lies on the emotional bond between the two.
The Invisible String*
by Patrice Karst
The Invisible String delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, whether through anger, or distance or even death, love is the unending connection that binds us all, and, by extension, ultimately binds every person on the planet to everyone else.
By the book here
Daddy’s Big House
by Corey Beauford and Marilyn Garin, illustrated by Hannah MacBride
Little Jo Jo is your typical, fun-loving kid. His life, however, has changed tremendously since his father, Big Jo, moved away. One day, Little Jo Jo’s mother takes him to visit his father at his new “big house.” This heartfelt story will explore how Big Jo’s absence from his son’s life affects Little Jo Jo academically and emotionally.
My Mom Went to Jail
by Kathleen Hodgkins and Suzanne Bergen
My Mom Went to Jail is a story to help children cope with their mother’s incarceration. It includes dual texts: one for 6-10 year-olds, and a simplified version for preschoolers. Issues presented in the text include incarceration, foster care, feelings, consequences of behaviors, and feelings of abandonment.
The Night Dad Went to Jail: What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail
by Melissa Higgins, illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan
When someone you love goes to jail, you might feel lost, scared, and even mad. This colorfully illustrated book lets children know that they are not alone in this situation. It offers age appropriate explanations to help with difficult conversations. Told from the experience of a rabbit, this picture book is intended to make a parent’s incarceration a little less frightening.
Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights (Kids Are Important Series)
by Julie Nelson
Children need to know that when families change, it is not their fault.
Let’s Talk About When Your Parent Is in Jail
by Maureen Wittbold
This book takes kids through the stages of a parent’s incarceration to help them understand and deal with their thoughts, fears, and other feelings. This book offers well organized, truthful, and easy to understand explanations about the various aspects of having a parent in jail.
You Can’t Lock Up the Moon
by Sharyl Green
In You Can’t Lock Up the Moon, Green tells the story of ten-year-old Jamaria’s resourcefulness, as the girl tries different ways to connect with her mother in prison. Green paints the family’s financial struggles with a light brush, while beautifully describing the natural environment that offers Jamaria both adventure and solace.
Growing Up on 21st Street, Northeast Washington DC: A Memoir*
by Bryant R Mayo
This book tells the life story of Bryant Mayo, a young man growing up in Northeast Washington D.C. It is an autobiography that describes his teen years. It is about growing up without a father. The book tells an honest story about his family, his friends, and his challenges.
What Will Happen to Me?
by Howard Zehr
What is life like for a child who has a parent in prison? This book brings together photographic portraits of 30 children whose parents are incarcerated, along with their thoughts and reflections, in their own words.
“Incarceration” Before, During and After (A Journey of Change)
By J.M. Benjamin
Incarceration is a redemptive story about the power of change and how an ex-offender refused to become another statistic once he had paid his debt to society. J.M. Benjamin, once considered a threat to the community, gives you an up-close and personal account of growing up on the west end part of Plainfield, New Jersey.
Wish You Were Here: Teens Write About Parents in Prison
by Autumn Spanne and Nora McCarthy
These stories describe how teens kept in touch with their parents (or didn’t) and the complicated feelings that come with reunification.
Parents and Professionals
Coping When a Parent Is in Jail
by John J. La Valle
The book describes the effect of imprisonment on the prisoner and the family, and discusses life in jail, the criminal justice system, parole, women prisoners, and the value of counseling for family members.
A father-daughter dance…in prison
by Angela Patton
At Camp Diva, Angela Patton works to help young girls and their fathers stay connected and become part of each others’ lives. But what about girls whose fathers can’t be there—because they’re in jail? Patton tells the story of a very special father-daughter dance.
Special Program Offers Hope To Kids with Parents in Prison
Kayla is 7, and her dad is in jail awaiting a prison sentence. She and her mom found understand and a sense of belonging at Children of Promise, a summer came and after-school program for kids of incarcerated parents.
Open Studio Project
The Open Studio Project, located in Evanston, IL,emphasizes the use of art to facilitate growth, healing and understanding.
Institute for Therapy Through the Arts
The institute uses art to conduct therapy sessions. Therapists only use empirically researched methods and provide them within a continuity of care model.
The Family Institute by Northwestern University
This institute offers counseling for families who can’t afford therapy. Therapist of graduate-level therapist-in-training. Committed to strength and healing the whole family system by supporting children, adults, couples and families across their lifespan.
Metropolitan Family Services
From early learning, afterschool and job readiness programs to counseling, mental health services and legal assistance.
Erie Family Health
Provides high quality medical, dental and behavioral healthcare to all regardless of ability to pay.
Move Your Mind
Stress free environments where we can all connect as teens through movement and creative outlets.
Provides affordable mental health services that make lives better for our clients, their families and the community.
Evanston/North Chicago Yoga
Find More Resources
We provide resources for all forms of grief.
Of all the children in America, around 15% will experience the death of a family member or sibling. Even though death is ultimately a fact of life, it can be hard for anyone to experience this kind of loss, let alone a child.
There are about 1.25 million divorces per year in the United States. Of all U.S. children, 50% will witness the breakup of their parents’ marriage, and almost 50% of those children will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.
One in 28 children will experience the incarceration of a parent before the age of 18. Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are younger than 10 years old.
When a parent, caregiver or sibling is deported, or even when there is the threat of deportation, the whole family suffers.
Parental deployment is a form of loss that 3% of American children experience. This can be a very difficult adjustment for children, who may not be able to see or speak to that parent regularly, and who also may experience a great deal of stress when worried about his or her parent or guardian’s safety.
A child coping with the significant illness of a parent, caregiver or sibling can face many challenges.”
Find A Support Group
Rainbows’ programs help children grieving the loss of a parent or guardian due to death, divorce/separation, deployment, deportation, incarceration or trauma.