Georgia Center For Resources & Support
Serving Adoptive Families



Breaking Down Barriers: Helping The Child Whose Parent Is Incarcerated PDF Print E-mail

with Stephanie Robins, LCSW

Tuesday, the 12th of September 2006

The opinions and statements made in this chat session belong to the individuals posting them and appear in unedited form to promote the free exchange of information. However, they may not represent the views and/or policies of the Georgia Center for Resources and Support.

cindy: Hello every one, We would like welcome Stephanie Robins,LCSW

cindy: Stephanie, is a therapist specializing in childre, adolescents and families,

srobins: Hello everyone!

cindy: Stephanie will be sharing her knowledge of children in foster and adoptive families that have a birth family that has been incarserated

cindy: Stephanie, can you start with some of the problems that the families go through in trying explain to the children

judy: - has joined the chat -

srobins: Sometimes the foster parents or caregivers are not sure how to bring up the topic of the child's parent who is in jail. I always suggest that the foster parent be very supportive and nonjudgmental.

srobins: To start, ask the child what they know about the parent and the situation.

sonya: Stephanie, do many incarserated parents try to communicate with the child through letters, cards, or phone calls.

srobins: It has been my experience that most parents to try to communicate with their children. I know of one mother who writes a letter every week to her son. In my therapy practice, i encourage the client to process the letters and to write a letter or make a care for their parent. I have noticed that mothers are more likely to write more often than fathers.

Laveda: - has joined the chat -

Shannon H: With school age children, how can foster parents help them answer sensitive questions from teachers, classmates, etc.?

cindy: how do you discuss this with a child if the parent in jail is there do to abuse

srobins: Being honest is the best. Sometimes people may judge the child because their parent is in jail. Make sure the child understands that they are not to blame for what has happened to their parent.

cindy: this is very hard to do since most of our children feel like everything that has happened to them is their fault....

srobins: I have worked with many children whose parents are in jail due to neglecting or abusing their children. I am honest with the child and explain that the abuse is wrong and that the parent is in jail because of it. I do not say anything negative about the parent because the child will always love their mom or dad no matter what,

cindy: can you give some examples of things to say to them?

Shannon H: However, the kids also need to have ready answers to questions that need not be answered. Some folks are just too nosey, and the children need to be empowered not to feel they must answer just because they are asked.

srobins: Sure...I would phase it by saying "it must be hard for you to have your parent in jail, Do you ever question to why they are there? Do you think that you had something to do with it? reassure the child that it is not their fault and to listen and validate the child.

srobins: You are correct that the children do not have to answer questions from others. I have found if the child keeps it a secret that they feel that they are different. I recommend them only telling people they can trust. I would definitely let teachers know of the situation.

lorraine: - has joined the chat -

cindy: this is really hard on teens, as they sometimes feel that they should follow in the parents footsteps and end up in trouble how do you make them understand?

Laveda: What is your opinion regarding children visiting an incarcerated parent? What ages do you feel are most impacted by visits at the site of incarceration?

sonya: What do you say to the child who may resent the parent and harbor ill feelings?

srobins: Yes, this is a hard situation for all children of all ages. teens do want to identify themselves and to be like their parents. some teens are able to do well in school and have the opportunity for going to college or getting a good job. If the child is given encouragement, support,and self esteem, they are most likely not to follow in their parent;s footsteps.

srobins: Laveda, I totally support children visiting the incarcerated parent. I do not think there is an age limit. Just make sure the facility is appropriate for the child and that the child understands what it will be like. The child needs to see the parent. It is best if the child gets to hug and kiss the parent if permitted.

Shannon H: I just wonder, though, about the environment they are going into. Some other inmates can be inappropriate. How best can families protect the child and prepare them for this?

Laveda: Should a caseworker/social worker encourage a teen to visit an incarcerated parent or should they be given options, i.e. web camera; internet IM; letters, etc. as opposed to visiting in person.

srobins: Sonya, that is a great question about what to say to the child who resents the parent. Support the child, tell them it is ok to be angry at their parent. Ask them to discuss their feelings with you. Have them draw a picture or write a story about the situation

srobins: Shannon, I would visit the jail before the child goes on the visit to ensure the enviroment is appropriate. Try to see if the jail will give the parent and child a special room--supervised of course

chatadmin: The holidays can be a very difficult time for children with an incarcerated parent, What have you found to be helpful to the foster parent who trying to support that child during this time?

Shannon H: Great idea!

lorraine: Hi Stephanie, Do you know if Georgia prison systems have programs that work with the child and the incararcerated parent. I mean programs that helps the me to bond and understand the situation.

srobins: I think case workers and social workers should encourage visits with the parents. The teen may have lots of questions unanswered and the parents can tell them directly. The teen needs to see the parent in person to feel the parental bond. Just because the parent is in jail does not mean they are not the child's parent.

srobins: Lorraine, I am not that familuar with the GA prison systems and their programs.

Laveda: Stephanie, what is your suggested approach if the parent does not want to visit with the child who wants very much to visit?

cindy: that mostly depends on the warden in a case by case situation

srobins: Laveda, great question! That is a hard one when a parent is not wanting a visit or is resistant. then I would support the parent's decision and not have the child visit. I would still encourage the child to write letters and send pictures.

cindy: How do you help the child so they once again don't feel the hurt of rejection?

srobins: you definitely do not want the child to feel rejected by the parent. I would not suggest making excuses for the parent. I would tell the child that the parent is not ready for a visit. I would explain that the parent maybe afraid of what the child thinks of them or ashamed that they are in jail.

Laveda: I would imagine Stephanie that you incorporate a great deal of grief and loss counseling with your children/teens who have incarcerated parents; perhaps more with those children who will not be able to visit with their parent for whatever reason.

srobins: yes, I address the greif and loss with the children. Not only they have loss a parent, but they have lost their home and their everyday routine. It is very difficult for the child. I have seen several children have depression and anxiety related to the situation. sometimes they may even have PTSD (Post traumatic Stress Disorder)--if witness the parent being arrested.

Laveda: Stephanie, do you happen to know the percentage of foster children who have an incarcerated parent?

srobins: I do not have the specific stastics. from my own practice, about 75% of the children that I see in foster care have a parent who is incarcerated--typically due to drugs

chatadmin: Stephanie, my question.. Your suggestions for helping the child during the holidays

srobins: the holidays can be such a difficult time for the child since the holidays remind them of family gatherings. Talk with the child about his or her family's rituals and see if they want to do the same. encourage the child to send holiday cards.

cathy: - has joined the chat -

cindy: we are approaching the end of the chat does anyone have any questions for Stephanie

cindy: stephanie do you have any suggestions that seem to work for most children that would help the foster/adoptive parents?

Laveda: Stephanie, that is a huge percentage. More than I would have expected. It seems the number of incarcerated parents has increased by a significant number. About how many foster children are you currently seeing in your practice for counseling/therapy overall?

Laveda: Do you know the about how many therapists there are in Metro Atlanta or GA. who specialize in this area of therapy/counseling with children?

srobins: I suggest the foster/adoptive parents to ensure to the child that they are safe and provide a healthy enviroment for them. Be honest with the child and talk to them when there are decisions being made about them, Encourage visitations or correspondence with the parent who is incarcerated. Make sure the child does not feel judged or different. Encourage the child, support, and boost their self esteem. Most of all, be a listening ear for them.

Laveda: Are there any books; videos that you would suggest parents read/view?

srobins: I am currently seeing about 15 foster children right now. Most are in DFCS custody.

srobins: I am compling a resource book list. Feel free to email me and I will send it to you. My email is robinsfamilytherapy@yahoo,com

cindy: I want to thank Stephanie, for the wonderful information this evening

Laveda: - has left the chat -

srobins: Thanks for letting me be a part of this discussion. Please feel free to contact me via email or by phone 404-849-5505. Thanks to all.


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