Did you know that in Kentucky more than 1 in 10 children have had a parent separated from them due to incarceration?

This shared sentence is not only an Adverse Childhood Experience but research also shows that children of incarcerated parents are, on average, six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves. The traumatic experiences of young people who have a parent incarcerated are too often overlooked or misunderstood. Not only does having a parent incarcerated come with long-lasting negative effects for children’s mental, physical, and psychological health, but being incarcerated permanently harms a person’s access to find safe ways to clothe, house, feed, and care for their children.

Whether they live with their other parent at home or with a kinship or fictive kin caregiver, the adults in a young person’s life can play a role in supporting their ability to weather the hardships that come with parental incarceration and nurturing their ability to thrive. The Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation (WJRF) is an organization that works to do just that – bridge gaps, heal justice, and support kids and youth who are impacted by incarceration. Their goals are to educate and raise awareness in their community and those surrounding.

WJRF gave a presentation at the recent Commission On Race and Access to Opportunity meetingwatch the recording via KET.

WJRF co-founders Dale Robinson and Amy Snow gave a run down of the many programs and supports that they have for families of those who have been impacted by incarceration. This includes resources such as visitation for kids with incarcerated parents, host contact visitations in their local county jail, and giving families gas cards to travel to facilities outside of Franklin county. They also provide monthly caregivers support groups, parent cafes, family fellowship events, and provide assistance to help meet families basic needs. Programs for children include Kids Rising Up Through Support and Healing (K.R.U. S. H) school-based groups, high school outreach, life skills classes, college and career exposure, and weekly mentoring. 

In the same way that there is a bill of rights for foster children, the WJRF asked the committee to support drafting similar legislation for Kentucky. This would be a Kentucky bill of rights for children of those incarcerated with a goal to help families break generational incarceration cycles. The legislation would include measures for kids of incarcerated parents: 

  • To be protected from additional trauma at the time of parental arrest. 
  • To be informed of the arrest in an age-appropriate manner.
  • To be here and respected by decision makers when decisions are made about the child
  • To be considered when decisions are made about the parent. 
  • To be cared for in the absence of the child’s parent in a way that prioritizes the child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. 
  • To speak with, see and touch the incarcerated parent.
  • To be informed about the local services and programs that can provide support to the child.
  • To not be judged, labeled, or blamed for the parents incarceration
  • To have life long relationships with their incarcerated parents. 

There are numerous steps that we can take as individuals, organizations, and communities to support Kentucky families that have been impacted by incarceration. Some steps may feel small, but together we can make a big difference! Get involved this October by:

  • Exploring and sharing this guide that offers tips, resources, and conversation starters for parents, caregivers, and community members supporting children with an incarcerated parent.
  • Engaging in conversations with your local jails and community advocates to discuss and explore ways to support those impacted by incarceration.
  • Learning about local practices to gain an understanding of where there may be a need  to step in and support those impacted in your community.
  • Watch the recording of a recent webinar to hear fellow Kentuckians share specific ideas that you could consider implementing in your own community to improve outcomes for families impacted by incarceration. The webinar will also include highlights from a new report, Community and Jail Practices Supporting Children with Incarcerated Parents: The Kentucky Landscape, from Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation.