There are numerous reasons why a child may not want to call, write or visit an incarcerated parent. Understanding why is the first step toward knowing how to help.

It's impossible to identify all the reasons a child may refuse contact with a parent who is in jail. As discussed in earlier posts, the child may feel resentful and angry, and until those emotions are dealt with, he/she may not want contact. However, a child's resistance to speaking with a parent may go beyond anger and resentment. 

With over 6 million children abused or neglected in the U.S. each year resulting in an average of four deaths each and every day, it's understandable that an abused child may not want a relationship with his/her abuser. Communication is not the most important factor in these cases. Help for the child through counseling and intervention is. 

Besides abuse and neglect, the previous parent-child relationship must be considered. According to the latest statistics, three out of four people in jail have a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol. No parent is perfect, but when addictions take over a parent, the child's needs and welfare take a back seat. The attention shifts from the child to acquiring the drug or alcohol and the high it provides, and the safe environment a child needs to grow is sacrificed. Coming from this relationship, a child may feel relieved that the parent is in jail. Even if the parent receives treatment while incarcerated, the child may not want to see them. This can be especially true if he/she has never known a sober parent before. In these cases, it is the parent who must reach out and patiently rebuild a relationship.

Lastly the refusal may be a direct result of the prison communication system itself. Most prisons and jails are not set up to maintain a healthy parent and child relationship. A child with a problem cannot talk immediately with a parent. He/she must wait for the parent to call, or sit down and write a letter, or, if he/she is close enough for a visit, wait until visiting day. With all the rules and regulations that are required when a person is incarcerated, it is easy to see why a child may feel that it just isn't worth all the trouble to stay in contact with an incarcerated parent. 

So, what can a caregiver do if a child refuses contact with a parent in jail? 

  • Talk to the child to determine the reason he/she does not want contact.
  • Seek help from counselors, social workers, and trusted family members.
  • If abuse is the reason, let the counselor and child determine if and when to resume contact
  • Make sure the parent does his/her part through letters and phone calls
  • If the child agrees to a visit, make parents understand the focus is the child not them
  • Be patient

Kids--all kids--are our future, and it up to us to determine what that future will be.


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