Mara Powell
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New Report: Community and Jail Practices to Support Children with Incarcerated Parents

Recommendations and Bright Spots for Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, KY – Parental incarceration is often referred to as a ‘shared sentence’ because of the impact it has on the community, caregivers, and most importantly, the children. Kentucky currently has the 11th highest rate of children who have had a parent incarcerated. A new report, Community and Jail Practices Supporting Children with Incarcerated Parents: The Kentucky Landscape, released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation, assesses jail practices and policies regarding incarcerated parents, and shares action steps communities and jails can take to deepen supports for families impacted by incarceration.

“While Kentucky’s ranking for children impacted by parental incarceration appears to be improving relative to other states, the reality is that one in 10 children in Kentucky have experienced the trauma and everyday hardships of having their mom or dad locked up. But there are many examples right in our communities of how to minimize that trauma. Through this study we have learned that community advocates, in partnership with local jails, are vital in leading and sustaining efforts to support children with incarcerated parents,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

For this report, Kentucky Youth Advocates surveyed community partners and impacted stakeholders, including those formerly incarcerated, around the state to understand ways that county jails allow incarcerated parents to stay connected to their children and efforts in which community-based organizations take to support families impacted by incarceration. Report findings include that community members generally aren’t clear about local efforts to address the impacts of parental incarceration and the importance of these programs, the wide range of practices to support families impacted by incarceration across the state, and the key role that community advocates play in encouraging family connection during incarceration.

In addition to the survey, interviews were conducted with key stakeholders working within or in partnership with jails to highlight bright spots in which Kentucky communities are already taking action to better support families experiencing incarceration. For example, in Perry County, Save the Children runs an early childhood program aimed at keeping young children who have an incarcerated parent connected through letters and art activities, while also providing visiting support to parents.

“For many families experiencing incarceration, the last interaction they had was likely traumatic. Save the Children’s programming, in collaboration with the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation, Perry County schools, and the local jail, offers a safe, welcoming space for sober interactions between parent and child. We’ve ensured the physical space for family visits is child-friendly with a colorful mural and reading corner and that the kids have something to take home and remember the visit, such as a coloring book or stuffed animal. Our focus is building and sustaining family connections,” said Wendi Hall, Program Coordinator for Save the Children at Kentucky River Regional Jail.

There are numerous steps that individuals, organizations, and communities can take to support Kentucky families that have been impacted by incarceration, such as learning about local practices and resources, initiating a conversation with local jailers to strengthen supports, and collaborating with local jails and community-based organizations to accommodate contact visits. This is exemplified in Grayson County where the local jail values families as part of helping incarcerated people become better versions of themselves and encourages communication – including physical contact – between incarcerated parents and their children.

“I’m a big believer in contact and face-to-face visits because of the benefit it has for the children and the person incarcerated. Our mission focuses on preventing recidivism and a key driver of that is strong family bonds and connections in the community upon release,” said Grayson County Jailer Jason Woosley.

In 2018, the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation (KSWF) identified the Commonwealth’s children of incarcerated parents as a population with many needs and decided to become more intentional about targeting their grant funding. The data showed that the number of children with an incarcerated parent in the state was significantly higher than the national average.

“We recognized that children of incarcerated parents experienced a higher risk for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), impacting their educational achievement and many other aspects of their young lives. It has been gratifying to be part of a joint effort with Kentucky Youth Advocates to develop networks and resources that we expect will benefit the children of incarcerated parents, the parents themselves, and service providers across the spectrum of communities in Kentucky,” said Anne Easton, Chairperson of the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation.

In addition to this new report, KSWF’s support has made possible the Guide for Supporting Children Who Have a Parent Incarcerated, which offers tips, resources, and conversation starters for parents, caregivers, and community members supporting children with an incarcerated parent.

Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation hosted a webinar, How Community Advocates Can Support Families Impacted by Incarceration, on Tuesday, October 18th – watch the recording.

Learn more about this project and view Community and Jail Practices Supporting Children with Incarcerated Parents: The Kentucky Landscape at


About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at

About the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation
The Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation, 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. Learn more at