Kids With Parents in Jail Series: Staying Connected
When parents go to jail, children feel lost, insecure, and alone. One way to combat those feelings are to allow the kids to maintain contact through letters, phone calls, or personal visits.
While there are very few studies that detail the results of continued contact between children and their incarcerated parents, the general belief is that it is beneficial for both parent and child. Parents benefit by staying part of the family unit which may help them to stay out of trouble when they are released. Children benefit by knowing that even though their parent is in jail, they are still loved. True there are exceptions to maintaining a relationship--abuse and neglect are two of them. But I am not talking about parents who never were parents in the first place. I am talking about allowing children who are not going to be hurt by a connection with their parents being allowed to communicate their thoughts and feelings with their incarcerated parent.
Writing letters is probably the easiest way for kids to stay in touch. These do not have to be long. They can even be written on a card or a post card. But it will provide kids with an option to tell their parents what is happening in their lives. This sharing of everyday things might seem small to you or I, but to a child it could mean the difference between feeling cared for or feeling lost and alone.
Phone calls are another way to keep in touch. These might require a little more preparation, but hearing a parent's voice might be just the thing to maintain a parent/child bond. It is important, however, to set this up in advance. Calls are usually collect, so let the parent know when to call. Talk to the child in advance. Help him/her create a list of questions or things to share.
If the parent is incarcerated nearby and the prison or jail allows it, set up a monthly visit. This method of connecting is a little more tricky. Prisons are scary places for a child. There are bars, secured gates, guards in uniforms, and guards who are armed. Plus, the parent may be restricted from hugging or touching the child. They also need to understand that when it is time to say goodbye, Mommy or Daddy will not be able to leave with them. It is up to the caregiver to make sure he child is ready for what they will see and hear.
Staying connected is important. It's as if the song "Connected" from the movie "Barbie's Diamond Castle" was written not for friends as in the movie, but for parents separated from their children. Here is part of it to refresh your memory:
I feel connected (connected)
It's like you're sitting right
With me all the time
You hear me (you hear me)
You're near me (you're near me)
And everything else is gonna be all right.
Kids--all kids--are our future, and it is up to us to determine what that future will be.