Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children in the Welfare System Term Paper

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Parental Incarceration on Children in the Welfare System

In 1998, there was an estimated 200,000 children in the United States that had an imprisoned mother and more than 1.6 million with an imprisoned father (Seymour 1998). However, no one knows for certain how many children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent (Seymour 1998). The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents uses a formula for calculating these numbers by multiplying the number of currently incarcerated women by.75, the average number of incarcerated women with children, by 2.4, the average number of children per incarcerated mother; then multiply.56, the average percentage of incarcerated men with children, by 2.0, the average number of children per incarcerated father, and add the two sums together (Seymour 1998).

With the incarcerated population in the United States growing by an average of 6.5% each year, the number of children with parents in prison will only continue to increase (Seymour 1998). The rise of incarceration rate of women is of special concern due to the fact that women are most often the sole caregivers of their children (Seymour 1998). The number of women in prison has tripled in the United States since 1985, and on any given day, there are more than 100,000 women being held in jails and prisons throughout the country, with six percent of them pregnant when entering prison (Seymour 1998). Moreover, more than 53% of the children whose mothers are imprisoned are cared for by grandmothers, suggesting the extreme need for additional research on the social, economic, and health impact of this phenomenon on family caregivers, especially grandmothers (Ruiz 2002). Parental incarceration, and the crimes and arrests that precede it, cause chaos in the lives of the children involve, including traumatic separations and erratic shift from one caregiver to another, moreover, most of these children live in poverty before, during and after their parents' incarceration (Seymour 1998).

The number of children affected by parental incarceration can be only estimated, the true scope of the problem is uncertain due to the fact that few reliable statistics exist (Seymour 1998). Generally, "law enforcement does not gather information about the children of arrested adults and correctional institutions do not ask prisoners for specific information about their children" (Seymour 1998). Moreover, there is no specific agency or system in charge of collecting data about this population, thus, there is no way of knowing exactly how many children are affected, who they are or where they live (Seymour 1998).

To protect these vulnerable children and encourage family stability, the child welfare system has been and continues to be significantly affected by the increasing number of children with incarcerated parents (Seymour 1998).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 1994 National Study of Protective, Preventive and Reunification

Services Delivered to Children and Their

Families [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau

1997] identified "incarceration" as the presenting problem of the primary caregiver in 4% of the cases of children and families who received child welfare services in 1994.

Studies suggest that 8-10% of the children of female prisoners and 1-2% of the children of male prisoners are in some form of out-of-home care" (Seymour 1998).

By these statistics more and more children with incarcerated parents are likely have Intermittent contact with the child welfare system (Seymour 1998).

Due to lack of sufficient data, little is known about children in the child welfare system who have parents in prison, however, in several ways they are similar to the rest of the child welfare population (Seymour 1998). They suffer from poverty, domestic violence, inadequate housing, lack of education, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships; children of color are disproportionately affected and parental substance abuse plays a large role in many of their lives (Seymour 1998). However, children of incarcerated parents have unique permanency planning needs due to the length of the parent-child separation (Seymour 1998). Moreover, these children may have unique therapeutic needs due to the criminal behaviors exhibited by their parents prior to incarceration, the trauma of parent-child separation, or the stigma associated with incarceration (Seymour 1998). Furthermore, "these children have unique casework needs because the structure of the criminal justice system makes it difficult for parents, children, caregivers, and case workers to maintain contact with one another and to plan for the child's future" (Seymour 1998). There is little known concerning the effectiveness of child welfare interventions,…

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