How to tell School Officials that one Parent is in Prison

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you may not have to tell school officials. There are many reasons why school officials should be told about the incarceration of a parent, especially if that parent is imprisoned for crimes against children.

Children of incarcerated parent’s experience many feelings about this change in their lives and can sometimes become depressed, moody, angry and rebellious. As an expression of those feelings, children can begin to act out in the classroom or on the playground. Even innocent classroom discussions about current events or social problems can become difficult for a child to discuss. As a result, the child may exhibit disruptive behavior and if a teacher demands a public explanation for that behavior, the whole situation can become unpredictable and also make the entire classroom uncomfortable.

School officials often encourage parents to participate in their child’s education and when a parent is not available to participate, it can peak the curiosity of the other children. Sometimes school officials can prepare for these situations by simply modifying their teaching curriculum. Without proper preparation, drawing attention to a negative, such as this, in a child’s life can leave open the door for public embarrassment and ridicule which can result in life-long emotional scars.

The damages that can occur to children due to the incarceration of one of their parents can be so long term that it can affect a family for generations. The United States government is now recognizing that the negative effects of incarcerating a parent on children is a growing national problem.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1999, an estimated 721,500 State and Federal prisoners were parents to 1,498,800 children under age 18 and 22% of all minor children with a parent in prison were under 5 years old. At year end 2001, over 5.6 million U.S. adults had ever served time in State or Federal prison and of those that have children; the children are 3-5 times more likely to become offenders themselves.

A systematic approach that addresses the needs of these children in the community throughout their parents’ involvement in the criminal justice system is critical in today’s society however the federal role in providing programs for the education of children is limited because of the Tenth Amendment. Educational policies are decided at the state and local levels. Some states have responded to the special needs of children and their incarcerated parents, while many other states do not have specific polices or programs in place.

Depending on the state, the missing parent may be encouraged to maintain contact with school counselors and teachers, when it is in the best interests of the children. Find out what the policies are regarding incarcerated parents within your school district. If your school district does not have programs or policies already in place for dealing with the issues of incarcerated parents and you feel that your child would benefit from such programs, you may want to contact organizations that have been structured specifically to provide information to both families and schools, about this growing problem. Here are a few: Family and Corrections Network at http://www.fcnetwork.org, The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents [CCIP] at http://e-ccip.org/about_us.html, or The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) at http://www.cwla.org/.

School officials know that whatever the reasons for the parent’s incarceration, it is not a cross that a child should bear, so informing school officials in whatever way makes you and your child feel most comfortable is the best way to do it. You can set up a meeting to discuss the matter with either the child’s teacher or school principal. You can call almost any member of the school staff that you feel most comfortable with and ask them to inform their piers of the situation. You may also choose to notify school officials in writing. Whatever way you choose, if school officials require more information than you have provided them with initially, they will seek that information from either you or some of the other avenues available to them such as caseworkers or mentors.