Parental incarceration has often been referred to as a ‘shared sentence’ because of the impact it has on the community, caregivers, and most importantly, the children. In Kentucky, approximately 12% of children have been separated from a parent due to incarceration, the third highest rate in the nation.  

As a state, we have taken critical steps to address some of the factors contributing to the rise in parental incarceration. However, there are still tens of thousands of children being impactedIt’s imperative that we work to identify ways to mitigate the emotional, physical and behavioral impact felt by children when their parent is away. A simple but important thing to remember is that, in most cases, children love their parents and want to remain in contact with them. 

With that in mind, KYA has partnered with the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation to work on a three-year project around improving visitation experiences for children with an incarcerated parent, specifically in rural county jails. The Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation (KSFW), established in 1948, awards grants to organizations throughout the Commonwealth, with special consideration given to small-budget organizations striving to improve the quality of life for vulnerable Kentuckians residing in small communities and rural areas. Together, we hope to partner with local jailers and communities interested in supporting children in maintaining and strengthening relationships with incarcerated parents. 

As of March 15th, we have started the first phase of the work which focuses on gathering information about visitation policies and practices across the state through conversations with community leaders and jailers and the development and dissemination of a surveyBy the end of this year, we hope to identify bright spots – jail visitation models that can be celebrated and replicated statewide – and build relationships with jailers and other corrections and justice stakeholders.  

The information collected through conversations and surveys will be used to identify two pilot sites where creating a visitation environment that is more family-focused and child-friendly is feasible.  

In the last phase of the work, we will create an awareness campaign related to the information gathered in the first phase and findings from the pilot sites. Specifically, best practices that were incorporated, details of what worked well within each site, and identification of tangible components that can be implemented in local jails. More broadly, we will share the findings with relevant stakeholders and community leaders and engage media outlets to report on this work. 

We know that being separated from a parent due to incarceration exposes children to a severe level of stress – an adverse childhood experience. But we also know that supporting efforts to keep children connected to their parents, whenever it is safe to do so, can reduce the trauma children experience, reduce rates of recidivism for parents, and increase the chances that the relationship will remain intact when they return home.