Workshop for Teachers
This workshop is designed to address the needs of public or private schools in helping their teachers to understand the effects of parental incarceration on children so they can support these families as children are prepared to attend school. This program could be given to all teachers as well as children of all ages.
The workshop addresses specific questions:
- How does parental incarceration affect children?
- What should teachers understand about these children?
- Do children visit their incarcerated parents? If yes, what is that experience like?
- Are there certain times that may be more difficult than others for children of incarcerated parents?
- What can teachers do to support these children emotionally?
- Are there any suggestions as to how teachers can support children who want to talk about their experiences and feelings?
The presenter will explain the psychological, physical and behavioral effects of parental incarceration on children. As we know, anxiety and separation anxiety are the most powerful psychological effects of parental incarceration on pre-school children, ages 2-6. Anxiety may affect a child’s brain development process, having a long-term effect on the brain and causing emotional and behavioral side effects. Different types of psychological effects may be seen in children at different ages.
Heart disease and other health issues can be a part of the physical effects of parental incarceration. We should know about the shame and stigma that are a behavioral effect of parental incarceration, and that violent behavior has been seen in some of children of incarcerated parents. School failure and dropping out of school are other effects. 23 percent of children of incarcerated families are unable to complete their education, compared to 4 percent of all children who drop out of school or fail.
Many of these children come from families who are struggling with issues such as poverty and low educational achievement. All of these issues are related to one other and, because of them, these families may not be able to cover the cost of their child’s education, health or other basic needs.
Only 42 percent of state prisoners and 55 percent of federal prisoners have face-to-face visitation. The lack of visitation can be a function of the cost of transportation, other financial issues, or a family’s belief system. Some families believe children may be affected psychologically and emotionally, so they decide not to have visitation. However, studies show that visitation can enable children to find an appropriate coping style. It also helps children and their incarcerated parents to make better connections after release from prison. Children may be more isolated or show more violent behavior before and after visitations. These children may feel guilty and/or angry. They also become anxious while visiting their parents due to a visitation area that is not friendly or a restrictive time limit placed on the visitation. The research shows that communication with these children may help them understand their feelings and find better ways to deal with their feelings.
We tend to look at these events from our own perspectives, and, during special moments, we often think and talk about “normal” families—a father, mother and children—all together. But not all families have this “normal” life. To properly address the needs of children of incarcerated parents during special times, we should hear them, understand their feelings, help them to understand their own feelings, accept their feelings even if we can’t accept their reactions, and support them in finding ways to deal with their feelings.
There are some programs offered by other local organizations that support children of incarcerated parents in different ways. The Christmas Angel project, designed by Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) in Arlington, Virginia, is one of these programs. In this project, OAR receives donations of gifts for children of incarcerated parents and recently released prisoners. Volunteers deliver the gifts to the families’ homes and assist with monetary contributions for postage to mail gifts to families that are out of town. Children receive the gifts in their incarcerated parent’s handwriting so they know that they received it from their parents. It helps them understand that their incarcerated parent still loves them and wants to have a relationship with them even though they can’t be together at that time. COIPI has developed a “Storytelling” program where Hamed Farmand, the author of the book, “Missing Mum,” shares his own experiences with children who are having many of the same feelings and experiences. This conveys to them that they are not alone.
Problem & Solutions
23 percent of children of incarcerated families are unable to complete their education, compared to all children, 4 percent of whom drop out of school or fail.
The workshop will help teachers to understand the effects of parental incarceration on children so they can support these families as children are preparing to attend school.