November 16, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Representatives from an array of state agencies met at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford Wednesday for a summit to hash out a plan to create a bill of rights for children of incarcerated parents.
"Children of prisoners are often invisible and overlooked," said Susan Quinlan, executive director of Families in Crisis, a Hartford agency that works with families of incarcerated parents. "We as a community need to respond to that."
In Hartford alone, an estimated 4,500 to 6,000 children - about one in every six children in the city - have at least one parent in a state prison. The very fact that no hard numbers exist and that the state is left to extrapolate estimates from national trends illustrates the need for local attention, Quinlan said.
The group, which includes state agencies as well as representatives from the United Way and the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, agreed to form committees that would work on developing legislative proposals and a bill of rights for children.
The group agreed to base its work on a few guiding principles:
Counseling should be provided to all children of prisoners to help them deal with loss, trauma and stigma.
Transportation should be provided to all children of prisoners whose caretakers don't have cars, so they can visit their incarcerated parent.
It is traumatizing for children to witness their parents' arrest, and there should be a protocol for police officers to follow when children are present during an arrest.
Children should have a chance to speak with their parents following an arrest so the parents can explain what is happening.
Children should have a say in decisions about their own placements after a parent's arrest if the parent is their caretaker.
In addition to basic rights for children, group members talked about the need to offer extensive parenting classes to all incarcerated parents, and making them mandatory rather than optional.
"A lot of parents don't know how to be parents," said Dawn Homer-Bouthiette, director of the Commission on Children's Parent Leadership Training Institute.
Homer-Bouthiette suggested that the group do a cost study to determine what the state is spending on services for children when their parents are incarcerated to help the legislature understand the financial impact of spiraling incarceration rates of adults and juveniles, and the need to invest in programs that will help families succeed.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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