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Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents During Covid-19

While all children are responding and adapting to COVID-19 in their own ways, children with incarcerated parents have the additional burden of worrying about their parents who they can no longer visit and speak to as often, if at all. Here are some tips informed by youth with incarcerated parents about how best to support them. 

1. Check In Regularly

  • Encourage children to ask questions and share what they are hearing. Simply listening and validating feelings is helpful. Don’t assume that a child is not worried if they are not talking about it. 

  • Ask children if they have concerns about the conditions inside the prison/jail and correct misinformation.

  • Encourage children to talk, write, or use creative outlets such as art, play, and dance to express their feelings.

  • Parole board hearings may be delayed or work release may be suspended due to COVID-19.  Have honest conversations about the status of a parent's potential release to manage children's expectations.

  • Reentry may be even harder during COVID-19. Connect parents to organizations that offer reentry support and ensure children have ongoing support after their parent’s release.

2.Support Relationships with Their Incarcerated Parent

  • Children may have less access to their parents due to Covid related visiting and phone restrictions at a facility.  Acknowledge the separation and provide an age-appropriate explanation about the change. 

  • Regularly check the facility’s website for visiting updates and to determine whether the facility is offering video conferencing or free calls.

  • Prepare the child in advance about changes to in-person visiting practices. 

  • Help children feel connected in-between communication. Children can keep a list of what they want to tell a parent, read the same book as a parent, write letters/emails, talk to a photo of a parent, and include the parent in bedtime rituals.

  • Share fun stories about the incarcerated parent with the child.

  • Parents who are released during the pandemic may be required to quarantine or enter transitional housing. Keep children informed and let children know when the parent will be home.

3. Acknowledge Systemic Racism

Incarceration and COVID-19 disproportionately affect communities of color, a result of systemic racism baked into the criminal legal and healthcare systems. This means that children of color are more likely to experience the incarceration of a parent and have a family member who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. Children of color are also more likely to have a parent who is considered an “essential worker” adding to a child’s stress. 

  • Connect with health and mental health services. 

  • Encourage children to be proud of the essential work their families are providing, and convey your pride in them. 

  • Learn about systemic racism within the criminal legal system, and encourage youth to do so too. Here are a few suggestions: 

4. Connect Families to Supportive Resources

  • Children may feel that they are alone. Connect them to resources for and about children with incarcerated parents, such as See Us, Support Us, Echoes of Incarceration, POPS the Club, and We Got Us Now. Explore whether a community-based organization has support for children with incarcerated parents. 

  • Older children may benefit from feeling like they have some control over their situation. Connect teens with youth leadership groups and criminal justice reform campaigns. Teach youth how to contact local officials to ask for their concerns to be addressed. 

  • Brainstorm with caregivers about ways that they can take care of their own wellbeing in order to best support the children they care for. 

5. Tips for dealing with Covid-19 by and for young people 

  • Keep a positive attitude

  • Stay home

  • Reorganize your room

  • Social distance 

  • Wear a good mask and cover your nose 

  • Wash your hands

  • Find a new hobby

  • Try new hairstyles 

  • Give to those less fortunate

  • Keep up with your school work 

  • Watch new TV shows, documentaries, and movies 

  • Cook new food

  • Enjoy family  

  • Create a buddy system so you always have someone to talk to

  • Stay in touch with the positive people in your life

  • Exercise

  • Be open to trying medication if your doctor recommends it

  • Zoom with friends you miss 

  • Zoom party to celebrate milestones

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