SUSU In Action: Supporting Teachers and School Staff
While school administrators and those working on education policy and practice may not directly interact with students on a day-to-day basis, there are still many ways they can support students who are experiencing parental incarceration. Mostly, this includes providing support and tools for the teachers, school staff, counselors, and others who have opportunities to create affirming and inclusive spaces in their classrooms.
Below are ways school administrators can support students whose parents are incarcerated by supporting the teachers and school staff who interact with them most.
By following See Us, Support Us throughout the month of October you are already taking an important step towards seeing and supporting children of incarcerated parents! Continue to take the time throughout the year to learn about the unique needs of children of incarcerated parents and also consider connecting with local organizations who are supporting them. These connections can help give you ideas on how to create a more inclusive environment in your school and support your efforts to acknowledge students of incarcerated parents in a way that empowers them and does not isolate or stigmatize them.
Provide professional development for all school staff
Commit to strengthening the capacity of your staff (including support staff such as school resource officers). Begin by encouraging staff to attend the SUSU Youth Listening Sessions for Educators on October 19 and October 27, 2021 at 6:30 PM EST. Register here. Explore holding on-campus conferences, invite issue experts to speak at teachers meetings and present to students, and offer training or include the experience of parental incarceration in the trainings you already have.
Create affirming spaces
Children and youth spend a large portion of their day in school and are impacted by their environment. There are ways to create an inclusive space without even saying a word. For example, posting the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights in your hallways, guidance counselor's office, and principal's office and including books about children of incarcerated parents in your library are ways to signal to students that their experience is acknowledged without them having to disclose. Consider which assignments and themes are featured in hallway displays- do these help or further isolate students with incarcerated parents? Adopting a universal approach that assumes some students are navigating their parents' incarceration and looks to build allies among those who aren't can go a long way to support students without them having to go through the emotional labor of advocating for themselves. It also supports teachers' efforts to create inclusive and affirming spaces in their classroom.
"As an educator who is also directly impacted by the toll of having a loved one incarcerated, I can tell you first-hand that having a supportive and safe space in the place where I spend the bulk of my day — school — is critical. Many of my students are experiencing parental incarceration and they shouldn’t have to share for the school to respond. As a system, we are well-aware of the mass incarceration rates in our State and in our nation. We are in a societal epidemic. Teachers, administrators and school support staff are the first lines of defense since we spend so much time in close contact with our students.. We all need to be trained in how to best meet the needs of children who have parents in prison. They should not have to bear the brunt of that weight alone. I implore all school programs to participate in See Us, Support Us 2021 and establish meaningful ways to help our students living with the harsh reality of parental incarceration not only survive, but thrive."