A new report weighs the impact it has on a child when a parent is put in prison. In Iowa, some 58,000 children have a parent who’s behind bars.
Michael Crawford, a senior associate with the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines, says when an adult is incarcerated, the child who’s left behind often faces poverty, homelessness, hunger and emotional pain.
“We shouldn’t let being tough on crime become a tragedy for kids,” Crawford says. “Having a child lose a parent, especially a breadwinner, for a prolonged period of time leaves a family scrambling to cover basic needs along with legal and other fees.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the private philanthropy group that puts out the “Kids Count” survey every year, is releasing the report. Crawford says states typically spend heavily on corrections but not on those who are left behind. He says the report suggests three primary solutions.
“One is insuring the children are supported when the parents are incarcerated,” Crawford says. “The second is connecting parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment. The third is strengthening communities to promote family stability and opportunity.”
The report urges policy makers at all levels to take action to support children from the moment their families come in contact with the criminal justice system.
“We can do so by providing access to financial, legal, child care and housing assistance for the families when the parent is incarcerated, enabling families to access programs to cover basic needs and become self sufficient,” Crawford says. “Also, directing more funds toward education and training for in-demand jobs for incarcerated parents and having prison and community organizations provide family counseling and parenting courses.”
The report is called: “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities.”