Friday, November 7, 2008

Hidden Population/Innocent Victims of Social Stigma and Neglect

Imagine you are a child. You wake up one morning to find that your father (or perhaps it's your mother) is gone and won't be coming back. Dead? No, worse. He (or she) is in jail...going to prison. But you are not allowed to talk about it. "Don't tell anyone. They'll hate you if you do."

But kids in school find out. They whisper about you. They point fingers. They stop talking when you enter the room. They don't include you in their games. Teachers don't know what to do with you when your grades start slipping. Society as a whole has abandoned you. The stigma you must live with is only a fraction of the negative affects of parental incarceration on children, the innocent victims.

Why Punish the Children? is the title of two different studies, one from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the other by The Children's Defense Fund. It is indeed the children who suffer the most when a parent is sent to prison. Statistics gathered in October 2001 shows over 721,500 parents of an estimated 1,324,900 minor children were confined to prisons. When we realize that the prison population grows each year, that number is much larger today. By 2007 the number had grown by a million to an estimated 2.3 million children with a parent in prison in the United States.

What happens to these kids? Who provides for them and how? Unfortunately, little is done to assure that they are given consistent nurturing care. The result? Innocent children suffer extreme traumatic stress. Many will develop criminal tendencies and eventually end up in prison themselves. "NCCD studies found that children of incarcerated parents did not thrive.... but experienced severe problems in school and showed signs of serious mental health and behavioral problems." This link will lead you to many articles that explore the plight of children of prisoners.

Jan Walker, who spent 18 years as an educator in both men's and women's prisons, has a deep concern for the children of prisoners. She developed a curriculum for prisoners called, Parenting from a Distance which provides parenting skills to unite families and gives incarcerated parents the tools to help alleviate some of the trauma their imprisonment has caused. She also wrote a book for the children, An Inmate's Daughter, to let these 2.3 million or more children know that they are not alone and to teach them that they matter; to help them overcome the stigma and the feelings of guilt that they usually feel; to emulate the protagonist in exploring her own feelings and developing self-respect.

As important as this book is, we have run into a wall when it comes to getting it into the hands of these typically impoverished and forgotten children. Society prefers to ignore their existence. Classroom teachers are overburdened and underfunded, limiting time and resources for struggling and often difficult children. Government agencies have ignored them.

If you know of anyone who might benefit from a book like this, please tell them about it. Have them give us a call (866-685-3545) and we'll make the book available at a price they can afford.

1 comment:

Mary Cunningham said...

Wonderful post, Janet. More and more children are having to live with this stigma. I believe most try to hide it which adds unbelievable pressure.