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Children with Incarcerated Parents

Children with Incarcerated Parents

Many children in the child welfare system have had an incarcerated parent even if it was not the reason they entered care.

Our Work

A shared sentence for children

A prison or jail sentence for a parent can be a shared sentence for their child: it is a significant, potentially traumatic experience that can mark a child for life. Having an incarcerated parent is one of several experiences known as “adverse childhood experiences (ACEs),” which have been shown to impact children’s physical and mental health, education and more, even through adulthood.

Most children with an incarcerated parent live with the other parent or a relative, but having a parent who is incarcerated is one reason a child may enter foster care. In fiscal year 2018, nearly 20,000 children entered foster care in part because of parental incarceration.

Additionally, many children in the child welfare system have had an incarcerated parent even if it was not the reason they entered care.

CASA and GAL volunteers advocate for services and circumstances that help children deal with the potential negative impacts of parental incarceration. They can help children maintain positive relationships with a parent who is incarcerated or reintegrating into society. They can also help locate relatives and close family friends who may be good alternate placements for children.

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Children whose parents are incarcerated are at risk of negative outcomes even if they are not in foster care. These realities can make it harder for them to cope with other difficult circumstances in life.

Parental incarceration can impact children’s

physical and mental health,

immediately and in the future.

Parental incarceration can lead to

problems in school,

and higher grade retention.

Parental incarceration can cause

increased aggression

in children.

National CASA/GAL has provided grant funding to CASA and GAL programs around the country that are doing innovative work on behalf of children impacted by this issue:

  • An Arkansas program documents visitation spaces in state prisons and county jails so courts can understand what parent/child visits will look like there. They work with prison social workers to ensure parents can complete services like parenting classes and rehab while they are incarcerated, so they can be reunited with children sooner after release.
  • A Massachusetts program works to establish mental health care services for children with incarcerated parents, to help them work through associated mental health challenges. They also work with prisons to set up and manage video visits between parents and children.

CASA and GAL volunteers can change the lives of children who have an incarcerated parent.

Volunteer now

Help us serve every child affected by parental incarceration.