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It’s no secret that the United States takes a tough stance on crime. This is evident in our high incarceration rates. According to recent statistics, the number of children with at least one incarcerated parent is 2.7 million. That figure balloons to 10 million when you include children with parents who have been incarcerated at some point in their lives.

These children are at a much higher risk to struggle in school, have behavioral problems, and ending up in the criminal justice system themselves. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and poverty are also more prevalent in homes where a parent has been incarcerated.

Although several non-profit organizations provide support for these children, it’s clear that more needs to be done.

You might think that, because you or your family members haven’t been incarcerated, you aren’t affected by this issue. But this affects us all. If we don’t do something to help these children, we’ll continue to see high rates of recidivism and a revolving door of incarceration—which costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

So, what can you do to help?

We provide five evidence-based suggestions to get you started.

Check Your Biases

No one ever thinks that they’re biased. But we all carry around biases, whether we realize it or not. It’s important to check your biases at the door when working with children of incarcerated individuals.

Remember that these children are just that: children. They didn’t do anything wrong and they shouldn’t be judged because of their parent’s mistakes.

At the same time, many of us harbor negative stereotypes about people who have been incarcerated. These mistaken beliefs can reveal themselves in microaggressions, such as keeping a close watch on your wallet when you see someone with a prison tattoo or assuming that someone is uneducated because they have a criminal record.

Challenge these assumptions and others like them when they come up. It’s the only way to create an inclusive environment where everyone can feel safe and respected.

It doesn’t cost anything to be more sensitive and mindful in your interactions with these children and their families. But it could make a big difference in their lives.

Volunteer With or Donate to an Organization That Supports Children of Incarcerated Parents

As we noted, many nonprofit organizations provide support for children of incarcerated parents. These organizations offer a variety of services, such as mentoring, tutoring, and counseling.

You can help by volunteering your time or donating money to one of these organizations. If you have experience working with children, consider becoming a mentor. You can make a big difference in a child’s life by being a positive role model and offering support and guidance.

You can also donate money to these organizations. Many of these organizations are run on tight budgets, so every little bit helps.

Mentor a Child From an Incarcerated Parent

Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to support a child from an incarcerated parent. A mentor can provide guidance, support, and friendship to a child who might not have anyone else to turn to.

Mentoring programs pair children with mentors who have similar interests. This helps to create a strong bond between the mentor and mentee.

If you know a child from an incarcerated parent, you can offer to be their mentor. You don’t need to be part of a formal program to make a difference in a child’s life.

You can also reach out to local organizations that work with children of incarcerated parents. They can connect you with a child who needs a mentor.

Mentoring doesn’t strictly have to be about providing emotional support. You can also help a child with their homework or teach them a new skill, like how to play soccer or cook a meal. You can also help them connect with their incarcerated loved one by facilitating visits or writing letters.

Keep in mind that these children might come from difficult home situations. They might be dealing with a lot of anger, sadness, and fear. It’s important to be patient and understanding—you should also know when you’re out of your depth and need to seek professional help.

Support Policies That Provide Second Chances for Ex-Offenders

While tackling individual instances of bias and prejudice is important, we also need to address the systemic issues that lead to mass incarceration in the first place. One way to do this is by supporting policies that provide second chances for ex-offenders.

These policies can include things like expanding job opportunities for ex-offenders, providing access to education and training, and reforming the parole and probation system.

You can support these policies by contacting your representatives and letting them know that their stand on these issues is important to you. You can also support organizations that are working to change these policies.

Advocate for a Fairer Justice System

Change always begins with individual action, but it doesn’t end there. We need to work together to create a fairer justice system for everyone, especially children of incarcerated parents.

This means advocating for things like prison reform, sentencing reform, and an end to cash bail. It also means working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and investing in early childhood education.

Talk to your friends and family about these issues and how they can help. You can also raise awareness by sharing this article or other resources on social media.

Children of incarcerated parents need our support. In addition to individual action, we need to advocate for systemic change.

The more people know about the issues facing children of incarcerated parents, the more likely they are to take action. And when we all work together, we can create real and lasting change.

By Sophia Young 


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