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Vol. 7, No. 1
January 2002

Working with Children with Parents in Prison

There may be as many as 2 million children in the U.S. who have one or more parents in prison or jail. That's close to two out of every 100 children (Wright & Seymour, 2000).

Research indicates these children are traumatized by separation from their parents, confused by the parent's actions, and stigmatized by the shame of their parent's situation. Deprived of income and guidance, these children are vulnerable to poverty, to stressful shifts in caregivers, separation from siblings, and other family disruptions.

Because of all of this, the children of incarcerated parents should be of special concern to North Carolina's child welfare workers. As a state and a profession, we are more focused than ever on ensuring all children have a safe, permanent home, one that maintains and promotes their well-being.

Yet when a child has a parent in prison, achieving this goal can be especially difficult. This issue of Children's Services Practice Notes aims to introduce you to the challenges of working with this population and to provide you with resources and information to enhance your work with children and families separated by incarceration.


Understanding Parents in Prison

Reunifying Families After Parental Incarceration

Understanding and Supporting Foster Children With Incarcerated Parents

Child Reactions to Parental Incarceration

Understand Your Feelings

Prison Visitation Basics

Want to Know More?

A Prison Social Worker From A Women's Prison Talks About Visitation

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file.

For additional resources on working with parents in prison, please visit the following web sites:

  • Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents created by the San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents. This 12-page document encourages justice and human services groups to support children of incarcerated parents. The rights include:
    1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest.
    2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
    3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
    4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent's absence.
    5. I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my parent.
    6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent's incarceration.
    7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed, or labeled because of my parent's incarceration.
    8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

  • Report: Female Prison Population Grew 757% Since 1977
    The number of women in state prisons has grown exponentially in the past three decades, growing at more than twice the rate as the male population, according to a report from the Women's Prison Association “The Punitiveness Report-HARD HIT: The Growth in Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004." The report found that the female prison population grew 757 percent between 1977 and 2004, while the male prison population grew 388 percent….Women made up more than 10 percent of the prison population in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Hawaii. By contrast, only 3.2 percent of inmates in Rhode Island were women; the report said that the rate of female incarceration has dropped in the Northeast even as it has increased elsewhere in the nation. Nationally, there were 96,125 women in prison in 2004, up from 11,212 in 1977. Most of the increases in female imprisonment can be traced to the war on drugs, the report said. More women are being sent to prison for drug offenses -- notably methamphetamine use -- while convictions for violent crimes have fallen. Experts called for alternative sentencing for female prisoners, including addiction treatment for drug offenders <>

  • Meeting the Service Needs of Children of Prisoners. The Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners, a project of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), works to provide training and technical assistance to professionals and agencies that provide services to children of incarcerated parents. This includes child welfare agencies, criminal justice professionals, childcare and early childhood education providers, community groups, mentoring programs, teachers and schools, and other programs. The center offers training in the form of 90-minute workshops, half-day and 1-day overviews, 2-day intensive training, and a 2-day training of trainers for mentoring programs. Specialized training is available for mentoring programs, afterschool program providers, early childhood education and childcare providers, and juvenile justice, child welfare, corrections, and community corrections programs and professionals. All trainings are provided onsite. Information is available on the CWLA website:
  • IN-SITES – ONLINE ON PRISON RE-Entry. The spring 2005 edition of In-Sites includes stories about a reentry program that focuses on family reunification, how sites reach out to their limited English proficiency populations, and more.

  • Children with Incarcerated Parents a resource page by the Child Welfare League of America.

  • Family Ties, Through Prison Walls, by Chris Dickon (March 21, 2005)

  • Family Support and Incarcerated Parents a resource page from Family Support America.

  • U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Current demographic information about those incarcerated in prisons and jails in the U.S.
  • Faith-Based Mentoring for Children of Prisoners. (Children's Bureau Express, vol. 5, no. 6, June 2004).

  • "Daddy Dearest: A Look at Fatherhood"
    by Neil Bernstein (2000, Salon Magazine Online), an article about what it is like to be a child with a parent in prison.

  • Family and Corrections Network
    The FC Network offers information, training and technical asistance on children of prisoners, parenting programs for prisoners, prison visiting, incarcerated fathers and mothers, etc. Of special interest are links to books to read with children of prisoners and an extensive listing of relevant programs in North Carolina for prisoners and their families.

  • Incarcerated Parents and Their Children (the Mumola article cited in this issue of Practice Notes)

  • "Minorities as Majority: Disproportionality in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice,"
    by Michelle Y. Green. This article appears in the November/December 2002 issue of Children’s Voice, and is available on the Child Welfare League of America Web site.

  • Children of Incarcerated Parents: Research and Resources (Children's Bureau Express, vol. 5, no. 2, February 2004).

  • Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, edited by Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul, is available in paperback from the Urban Institute Press (410 pages, ISBN 0-87766-715-2, $32.50). Order online or call (202) 261-5687; toll-free 1-877-847-7377. The book documents the consequences of imprisonment for individual prisoners, their families, and the communities to which these prisoners return and asks whether the corrections and health and human services systems can better serve this growing population.

  • Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, by Christy Visher , Nancy G. La Vigne , Jeremy Travis. (January 01, 2004). Urban Institute. This is the final technical report for a pilot study of Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry. The study examined the process of prisoner reentry within the city of Baltimore. It involved self-administered surveys with 324 male and female prisoners. The study's purpose was both to examine the process of prisoner reintegration in Baltimore; as well as to test Urban Institute's survey instruments and research design in preparation for implementation of the study in three full-study sites. The report's purpose is to inform policymakers and service providers about how released prisoners navigate these challenges of reentry.

  • Baltimore Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home, by Christy Visher, Vera Kachnowski, Nancy G. La Vigne, Jeremy Travis. Urban Institute. (March 15, 2004).

  • The Implications of Incarceration for Children and Families (Data Trends #91), a research summary documenting the harm for families caused by incarceration. can be downloaded at

  • Family Support Magazine, Fall 2003 (vol. 22, no. 3). Contains a special section with articles on supporting families with incarcerated parents. Features 16 selections that range from research studies to first-person accounts of the effects of parent incarceration on the family. Includes descriptions of programs that address a variety of needs.

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