Babies ‘N Brains
Integrating science into healthy child development to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration
Staying in their lives
Children of Inmates, Inc. stays in the lives of our children from the time they are born to the time they head out to their first jobs.
Our program supports children of incarcerated parents through all phases of their early-life development. We have steered more than 3,000 children toward a positive future. That was done by enabling our children to have close relationships with their imprisoned parents who came to play active roles in keeping their children focused on their futures.
By getting their parents back in their lives, our children are able to overcome mental stress associated with the incarceration of their loved ones, and pour their energies into becoming productive citizens.
Through Babies ‘n Brains, we intervene early to mitigate the effects of trauma on our youngest children and to support the development of healthy, happy children. A child’s brain is wired for relationship. All future child development cascades from the quality of the first, and most important relationship, between parent and child.
If unaddressed, traumatic events in childhood, including separation from a parent due to incarceration, may cause long-lasting changes in the brain. These changes may, in turn, lead to adverse health and mental health outcomes. Research has proven that children of incarcerated parents are twice likely to develop mental health illnesses, such as reactive attachment disorder. By using science and education to address the impacts of trauma early, we seek to change the life courses of children.
We bring our Babies ‘n Brains program directly to incarcerated parents. Our staff provides parents with the tools and knowledge about their child’s brain and early development, including the impacts trauma may have, to help foster the bonds of attachment.
Our vision is: if fathers and mothers understand the basics about brain development, they will get more involved in raising their children and ultimately strengthen their bonding and attachment. These actions will help reduce the stress in their children’s day-to-day lives. More involved parents write letters to their children, call them at home, participate in video conferencing with their families, and are truly present during family visitations.
In addition, our care coordination team facilitates home visits to assess each child’s developmental milestones. We work with the primary caregiver to conduct daycare/school observations, assess household functioning, and address environmental stressors, all with a focus on reducing the child’s exposure to traumatic events in early life. As needed, we link the child and the family to social service and community mental health providers to offer a continuum of care.
Through our program, we are creating positive changes in each young participant’s life trajectory.
Many children of inmates are unable to visit their incarcerated parents because of transportation and financial limitations.
In response, Children of Inmates provides free quarterly Bonding Visits for children and their caregivers in Miami, Jacksonville
and Tampa and other parts of Florida to more than a dozen corrections institutions. We also offer video-conference visitations
for our families and their loved ones in jail or corrections institutions.
At each three to four hour Bonding Visit, children and their incarcerated parents sit together in secure rooms and read books, put together puzzles, do arts-and-crafts projects, and play board games — activities structured to encourage conversations, laughter, and hugs. Play mats have been introduced to allow little children to crawl, roll and giggle with their parents. The families also enjoy a family meal and take part in a civics educational activity to, again, create bonding and learning.
Following each visit, our children find stuffed animals awaiting them on the bus. And rather than going straight home, they detour to either a bowling alley or skating rink as a way to ease anxieties from separating again from their incarcerated parents as well as to build community ties with other children in their situation. Trained counselors accompany the children and are available throughout the trips for guidance and support.
Our Bonding Visits are in great demand.
They give considerable access for children to their incarcerated parents. The special visits provide a safe, child-oriented environment that regular visitation in a correctional setting cannot allow. Children are able to touch, hug, and be held by their incarcerated parent. This is critical, as we know that more than 42 percent of participating children have not seen their incarcerated fathers or mothers — or both — in months, even years. During one trip, we learned that nine of the 12 children on the bus had not seen their parent in more than three years.
How does this happen?
More than 60 percent of parents in state prison and more than 80 percent of parents in federal prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence (Sentencing Project, 2009). And so, for many families, it is often financially impossible to make the long trips to visit their loved ones in prison.
Here is a case in point: two of the correctional institutions we visit are near Ocala, more than 300 miles from downtown Miami. Three other prisons we visit are more than 150 miles away.
We calculated that for Miami-Dade County grandparents who are raising two children, the cost for a trip to Ocala is about $350 (overnight motel, food, tolls, and gas). Without our program, these families would not be able to visit the institutions, thus preventing their children from being able to bond – and receive the attention and love – of their father or mother.
Besides distance, other communication barriers also exist.
Phone calls between inmates and their families may only be made if a special account is in place to pay for the call. For many families, these are calls are expensive and cannot be made frequently.
To reduce these costs, we created video-conference visitations. These 30-minute sessions between children and their incarcerated parents are done via the computer, for free, from our Care Coordination Centers to the correctional institutions.
Families that participate regularly are reporting positive experiences, and the children are experiencing closer ties to their parent. There is a waiting list of Florida correctional institutions wanting to participate in our video conferencing program.
Outside of taking children to bonding visits at corrections facilities and providing follow up supports and services for those visits, Children of Inmates supports children year round with opportunities for self exploration, learning, and, of course, fun in our community hobby activities. Throughout the year, our staff organize and facilitate one on one and group activities our children, where they can participate in athletic, artistic and other activities, such as skateboarding, gardening, painting, go kart racing, mini golf, and trampoline jumping to name a few!
In addition to providing children with outlets for fun, new experiences, hobby activities also provide the chance for bonding with other children who have experienced the difficulties and loss in having a parent incarcerated, reminding children they are not alone, and with the opportunity for care coordination with our staff. During down time at our hobby activities, staff work with children to make sure they have supplies and supports they need for school, food at home, medical care and other critical supports. Hobby activities are critical avenues for healing, support and a great time for our children.