Issues and Facts
  • Challenges Facing Teens of Incarcerated Parents

    Posted on   11/1/2016  12:46 PM

    It’s hard being a child of an incarcerated parents.

    That’s especially true for teens.

    Teens face many challenges, explains Rebecca Shlafer, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics (Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine) at the University of Minnesota, in an essay in Your Teen For Parents. Those issues may include: moving in and out of homes, changing schools, being separated from siblings, and losing contact with relatives. On top of that, many teens may have feelings of shame about their parents’ crimes and their incarceration, and they may also feel isolated from others like their peers.

    Yet, compared to younger children, teens have the ability to understand the basic facts about their parents’ incarceration, Shlafer writes. That’s because they may have witnessed and remembered their parent’s crimes, they may have been at their parents’ trials and sentences, and they may be fully aware of how their parents’ incarceration have hurt their families.

    Shlafer adds: “Teens also have more capacity to process their feelings about their parent. They also have the language skills and cognitive capacities to express their feelings about whom they live with or how they interact with their incarcerated parent. This can be challenging because some teens may want to see or talk to their incarcerated parent, but maintaining contact can be difficult depending on the location of the prison, cost of travel, or telephone calls, and conflicted family relationships.”

    “…Teens with incarcerated parents may face many risk factors. But with the help of consistent and supportive adults, and through opportunities to maintain their relationship with their incarcerated parent, they can thrive.”

    Children of Inmates understands this issue very well. We have created a care coordination program and Family Bonding Visits at correctional institutions to reconnect children with their incarcerated parents. And we work closely with the children’s caregivers to help them raise children to be happy, healthy and productive citizens.

    We certainly agree with Shlafer on the challenges facing our teens, but we also know that, when appropriate, giving children regular access to their incarcerated parents is a way to mitigate the trauma associated with the separation from their parents. And yes, it’s also a way to help children thrive as they grow older.


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