Educating Incarcerated Parents

Kids’ Minds Matter is committed to expanding mental and behavioral health services and support to children in Southwest Florida. Part of this outreach is recognizing the needs of children whose parents are in jail or prison by providing parenting classes for these incarcerated parents.

Between 5 and 8 million children have a parent who resides in jail or state federal prison. Research shows that having a parent serving time results in an adverse childhood experience (ACE). These experiences are potentially stressful or traumatic events that impact mental wellness. These can include low self-esteem, depression, disturbed sleeping patterns and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Long-Term Impact of Incarceration on Families

Long-term impacts for children with incarcerated parents can include lower academic achievement, social and emotional struggles and a higher risk of going to prison themselves. In a North American study, separation from a parent through imprisonment was found to be more detrimental to a child’s well-being than divorce or the death of a parent!

Parental incarceration often occurs with other stressors to the family, such as divorce, family economic instability, abuse and household substance abuse.

Being a parent serving time also impacts the parent. Studies have shown that women in jail with children often suffer from grief, loss, shame and guilt.

When relationships between incarcerated parents and their children are strong, research shows parents are less likely to reoffend, and substance abuse and criminal behavior declines. Also, children’s trauma symptoms can be interrupted. This is the importance of offering parenting classes for incarcerated parents.

The Problem

Incarceration has increased, resulting in more mothers and fathers with dependent children in prison. Since the 1980s, the rate of children with incarcerated mothers has increased 100%. Children with incarcerated fathers has increased more than 75%.

Communities of color are more at risk. About 15 % of African American children born in the 1970s had a parent serving time. Twenty years later, the rate had nearly doubled to 28%.

The challenges faced by children with incarcerated parents has become such an issue, that more than a decade ago, the children’s show Sesame Street introduced, Alex, a character whose father was in jail.

Help for Parents and their Children

Classes that improve parent-child relationships and build parenting skills can benefit the children, while also working to break the cycle of negative outcomes for children and incarcerated parents. Parenting classes can help parents in jail renew their parental role when they are released.

“No one teaches you how to be a parent, so I never realized that you parent how you were parented,” said one of the parenting class participants from the Lee County Jail. “If you weren’t raised in a positive environment, it has lasting effects on your future.”

Parenting Classes for Incarcerated Parents: Perspective from an Educator

Gabrielle Sholes, Public Education/Child Advocacy with Lee Health has been teaching the parenting class at the Lee County Correction Facility over the last year and has had 12 women complete the full class.

“What I think many people forget is that they are people too, who are deserving of respect and kindness,” she said. “Just because they are where they are, doesn’t make them bad people; they just made bad choices.”

Sholes says the program has made a difference for women, who are changing their perspectives and understanding how to change their lives.

“They have learned the power of ‘I’ and what it means to take accountability for their actions, knowing their lack of connection with their children is a direct result of the choices they have made,” she said. “What was once a broken relationship, is now filled with hope for a brighter future, filled with honesty and open communication.”

How You Can Help Support Parenting Classes for Incarcerated Parents

Private donations allow Kids’ Minds Matter to offer free parenting classes, which support the community as a whole. Many result in better mental and behavioral health for children and their parents, which elevates the entire community.

Classes like the ones offered in Lee and Collier County jails help improve outcomes for inmates, their families and their children, breaking the cycle of trauma and giving them a chance to thrive.

For information about classes, click here.

To donate to support parenting classes and other programs for Kids’ Minds Matter, click here.