Coordinating Council on Children with Incarcerated Parents
There is no single story that describes what it is like for a child to have a parent who is incarcerated. The experience depends on diverse factors, including the quality of the parent-child relationship prior to incarceration, the degree of household stability following the incarceration, and the child’s age, developmental level, and individual personality.
Although it is challenging to disentangle the effects of parental incarceration from other risk factors that children may have experienced prior to a parent’s incarceration, parental incarceration is now recognized as an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE) of the type that can significantly increase the likelihood of long-time negative outcomes for children. Parental incarceration is distinguished from other adverse childhood experiences by the unique combination of trauma, shame, and stigma. This can increase feelings of isolation and alienation that keep children, caregivers, and parents from seeking services.
Visiting a parent in the county jail can help alleviate any fears a child may have about their parent’s welfare. Visiting an incarcerated parent can be calming for a child and the physical contact of a hug or holding an infant is beneficial to most children’s emotional and psychological well-being. For very young children visiting with a parent can provide necessary stimulation for the continued strengthening of the parent-child bond.
Child development and attachment theory emphasize the importance of physical contact between young children and their parents. Children who are unable to visit their parents who are incarcerated are at an increased risk for insecure attachment, potentially hindering healthy development. In New York State, only one county jail allows full physical contact visiting between a child and a parent who is incarcerated. Columbia County Jail has an enhanced visiting program for children and parents. The program is in close collaboration with a community-based organization, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood.
Columbia County Leads the WAY! The video I'M ALL IN showcases the enhanced visiting program at Columbia County jail. Please watch & share with your network of contacts in your county.
For more information on taking care of a child who has a parent who is incarcerated, please contact:
Little Kids, Big Challenges: Incarceration, a Sesame Workshop Toolkit is available here,
Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents Roll Call Training Video: Albany, NY Police Department Highlighted
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) collaborated on the creation of the Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents Roll Call Training Video based on the IACP/BJA Model Policy. Here is the Model Policy for law enforcement agencies. The Policy discusses the scope of the problem and challenges for responding officers, as well as outlines implementation strategies (from pre-arrest to booking to follow-up to ensure that impacted children are safeguarded). The video also includes interviews with law enforcement leaders, police officers, mental health practitioners, and children of arrested parents.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I get help to take care of a relative whose parent is incarcerated?
Help is available and there are links in the resources section.
There are several places to get help and more information for taking care of a child who has an incarcerated parent. Two good places to start are the warm-lines and websites of:
Can a child of an incarcerated parent visit his or her parent in prison?
Yes, visiting between a child and a parent is important to keep and improve the bond during this time of separation and to also prepare for when a parent will return to their family and their community. Support and information are available and there are links in the resources section.
There are several places to get information:
Cate Teuten Bohn, MPH
Council on Children and Families
52 Washington Street
West Building, Suite 99
Rensselaer, New York 12144