Stages of Re-Entry for Children of a Parent Returning from Prison
1. Celebratory/Honeymoon Children are initially excited with the presence of their parent in the home or community, and out of the prison. Heightened expectations need to be lowered for all, parent, child, and caregiver. Danger of parent “celebrating “ if drugs were part of the lifestyle, or becoming depressed and suicide as they run into the multiple barriers. All family members need to be watchful for signs of depression ; close supportive services are needed.
2. Velcro Children begin to experience the old anxiety about the parent leaving and may become clingy and regressive. Parent needs to be advised and supported in Parenting After Release programs or other supportive services, that this is a stage and will pass, but the parent must be patient and tolerant. Parental separation now will often trigger the past loss of the parent and leaving at this early stage is very hard, especially for the under 8 group of children.
3. Suspicious; Anger Children, especially the older ones, may display signs of suspiciousness with the parent, as they may be anticipating a return to the “old ways” of drug use or criminal activity. Their attitude toward the retuning parent can be edged with their suspicion and the parent needs to anticipate this and be provided with the tools to be good listeners and recognize this as a reaction to the parental loss and not get angry. It is normal and will come to an end. The only exception is when the parent has been incarcerated numerous times throughout the child’s childhood and they may have simply “given up” on their parent changing.
4. Testing the Limits: (Children can begin to release their internalizing and isolation during this stage) Children are our best limit testers, with growth and development stages often transitioning with limit testing, and this is especially true when a parent has been away in these circumstances, including during incarceration, foster care placement or military deployment. As Ann Adalist-Estrin aptly describes in her stages of re-entry, the child is manifesting their concern and conflict with their behavior, saying “Can I show my feelings, ask the questions that no one would answer or I was afraid to ask while my parent was gone, or should I keep them to myself?”
5. Resolution/Adjustment If the re-entry and reunification are moving along well, feelings of the children are beginning to surface, with question-asking by the children, unfolding many of the secrets that were maintained during the parent’s incarceration, roles are developing, hopefully, new ones, resistance to change may be experienced but supported by ARV, and children can risk re-attaching.
6. Re-Testing Depending on the length of separation and the age of the children, after things may be progressing relatively well, the parent may experience a recurrence of the Testing the Limits stage. This recurrence is predictable for children who have endured multiple separations and simply a request for reaffirmation of that the parent will not be leaving again. Adapted from Stages of Homecoming, originally published in “Homecoming: Children’s Adjustment to Parents Parole, ” by Ann Adalist-Estrin, M.S.National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, Copyright FCN 2003 www.fcnetwork.org
Three Stages of Reactivity for Children of Incarcerated Parents –Suggestions for Mentors By Dee Ann Newell, Director, Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind, firstname.lastname@example.org
Based on my 20+ years experience working with children of incarcerated, I’ve come up with three stages of reactivity for these children when their parents are incarcerated for mentoring programs to consider.
In the initial stage of separation, they are usually quite anxious and unsettled with a chaos of feelings, including blaming themselves, the police officer(s) that arrested their parent, anger and rage, deep sadness and withdrawal, and helplessness. During this stage, the caring adult should engage in trust-building activities, laying down the trust components, e.g., confidentiality, non-judgmental about lots of things, not just the parent and the crime, respectfulness of the parent is imperative, and along with that is building demonstrable respect for the child. They have entered another universe, so to speak, where secret-keeping may be a family rule, stigma begins to reign, and most of all the trauma-reactivity is at its height. The antidote to helplessness is to give them something that they can master and control, even if it is choosing among select mentor-mentee activities. This first stage is the time to begin talking about all of the “feeling” words, having the child identify as many feelings as human beings can have. For example, help them make a list, have child demonstrate, draw, or just talk about what those feelings are like. Begin your trust and respect activities, such as keeping every commitment you make, but never make promises that you are uncertain you can keep. Avoid this temptation because, while it might make in the short-term help the child feel better, if these promises are unfulfilled, the child spins through another cycle of broken promises. Dashed hope may be a repetition of the familiar for many of these children, especially if the lost parent has abused drugs and often come in and out of the household or jail. Due to the initial trauma of separation, you will likely see the child's bewilderment and you need to acknowledge what you see, e.g., "I think I see a lot of confusion on your part right now? Would you like to draw, or sing or talk about it with me? I am a very good listener and we have been talking about our confidentiality agreement and my being very non-judging of anything you are feeling. Feelings are like visitors to your house. They don't move in if you greet them, know they are there, but sometimes if you do not greet them, they set up housekeeping and are hard to budge from the house.”
The second stage, given that the trust is strengthening and you are enjoying activities together, some of the feelings will seem more differentiated to you, not so much chaos. The child may seem angry or especially sad, and you can ask the child's permission to hear what you think are observing and, if yes, simply share your observations and ask them to verify if this is close to what they are feeling. The third stage is when the child does open up and begin to express some of the feelings. Here you may discover some of the inaccuracies in their information that leads to their feelings, and ask, always ask if you have permission to give them some feedback. If the child does not give you permission, do not pursue it but note the lack of information and think of ways to later come back to it. If it is okay with the caregiver or the courts, write letters to the parent, one from the child and one from you. Parents of children who are being mentored need information about the relationship so they do not feel threatened, for if threatened they may work against you out of fear that they are "losing their child to a stranger, someone who can spend time with the child in ways the parent no longer can." If your program and the caregiver are in agreement, you can occasionally take the child to visit. If opposed, then stick with the mentor-mentee letter- writing. Help send schoolwork to the parent. And begin to talk to your mentee about other children and what you personally know or have read about their experiences with a parent in prison. The most common feeling, aside from sadness and grief over the loss of the parent, is the feeling that they are 'all alone." Hearing that there are other children just like them and hearing their stories often help to stop the internalizing. Lots of information can be passed on, as well--those questions that you heard earlier, can be answered by hearing other children responses.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: There are great books for children that can be read to them, "Visiting Day" by Jacqueline Woodson is one with beautiful illustrations, meant for a younger child, up to age 8 and 9, but a 3 year old can also understand. http://www.amazon.com/Visiting-Day-Jacqueline-Woodson/dp/0590400053. The Family and Corrections website has suggested books for children, based on their age. www.fcnetwork.org. For older youth, I have them read the Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated, developed by San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents partnership (www.sfcipp.org), as well as sections from the book, “All Alone in the World” by Nell Bernstein (http://www.amazon.com/All-Alone-World-Children-Incarcerated/dp/1565849523)
Publications and Presentations
Newell, Dee Ann http://cehd.umn.edu.ssw.cascw Overview of the National Project to Implement the Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated
Davis, Emani and Newell, D.A. http://cehd.umn.edu.ssw.cascw Children of Incarcerated Parents and the School System
Newell, D.A. www.barnard.edu/sfonline/children/newell Childbirth in an American Prison
Phillips, S.D. & Gates, T. (OnLine First). A conceptual framework for understanding the stigmatization of parental incarceration. Journal of Child and Family Studies. http://www.springerlink.com/content/n10083q34238w281/fulltext.pdf
Phillips, S. D. (2010). The relationship between witnessing arrests and elevated symptoms of posttraumatic stress: Findings from a national study of children involved in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review. (32), 1246-1254.
Phillips, S. D. (2010). Service planning and intervention development for children of incarcerated parents. In Y. R. Harris, J. A. Graham & C. Oliver, G. (Eds.), Children of Incarcerated Parents: Theoretical, Developmental and Clinical Implications New York: Springer. Phillips, S.D., Venema, R., & Roque, L. (forthcoming). The unmet need for mental health services among probationers’ children. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation.
Phillips, S.D., Dettlaff, A.J., & Baldwin, M.J. (Online First). An exploratory study of the range of implications of families’ criminal justice system involvement in child welfare cases. Children and Youth Services Review, doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.11.008 Phillips, S. D. & Dettlaff, A. J. (2009). More than parents in prison: The broader overlap between the criminal justice and child welfare systems. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 3, 3-22. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a909229624&db=all
Phillips, S. D., Leathers, S. J., & Erkanli, A. (2009). Children of probationers in the child welfare system. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 18, 183-191. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a909229624&db=all
Phillips, S. D., Gleeson, J. P., & Waites-Garrett, M. (2009). Substance-abusing parents in the criminal justice system: Does substance abuse treatment improve their children's outcomes? Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 48, 120-138. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a907644515~db=all~jump Phillips, S. D. (2008) Making "The Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents" a Reality: Evaluation Report. Chicago, IL: Jane Addams College of Social Work.
Phillips, S. D. "The Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents" Technical Assistance Project: Contextual Factors. Chicago, IL: Jane Addams College of Social Work.
Phillips, S. D., & Erkanli, A. (2008). Differences in patterns of maternal arrest and the parent, family, and child problems encountered in working with families Children & Youth Services Review, 30, 157-172. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V98-4PN05FH-3/2/3e17d751fea56a84e8d74063aa183d62 Dettlaff, A. J. & Phillips, S. D. (2007). Immigration Enforcement: Considerations for child welfare services. Chicago, IL: Jane Addams College of Social Work.
Susan D. Phillips, PhD, James P. Gleeson , PhD ( 2007). What we Know Now that we Didn't Know Then about the Criminal Justice System's Involvement in Families with whom Child Welfare Agencies have Contact. Findings from a Landmark National Study [Electronic Version] . Research Brief: Children, Families, and the Criminal Justice System . Center for Social Policy and Research, Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Phillips, S. D., Erkanli, A., Costello, E. J., & Angold, A. (2007). Differences among children whose mothers have a history of arrest. Women & Criminal Justice, 17(2/3), 45-63. http://www.gcyf.org/usr_doc/Phillips_child_subgroups.pdf
Phillips, S. D., Erkanli, A., Keeler, G., Costello, E. J., & Angold, A. (2006). Disentangling the risks: Parent criminal justice involvement and children's exposure to family risks. Criminology and Public Policy, 5(4), 677-702. http://devepi.duhs.duke.edu/library/pdf/20970.pdf Phillips, S. D., Burns, B. J., Wagner, H. R., & Barth, R. P. (2004).
Parental arrest and children in child welfare services agencies. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2, 174-186. psycnet.apa.org/?fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/0002-94188.8.131.52
Phillips, S. D., Burns, B. J., Wagner, H. R., Kramer, T. L., & Robbins, J. R. (2002). Parental incarceration among youth receiving mental health services. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 11(4), 385-399. http://www.springerlink.com/content/j70773133670v411/
Harm, N. J., & Phillips, S. D. (1998). Helping children cope with the trauma of parental arrest. Interdisciplinary Report on At-risk Children and Families, 1, 35-36. Other Research and Resources Glaze, L. & Mazurac, L. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf
Nickel, J., Garland, C. & Kane, L. (2009). Children of incarcerated parents: An action plan for federal policymakers. N.Y.: Council of State Governments Justice Center. http://www.reentrypolicy.org/jc_publications/federa_action_plan_/Children_Incarcerated_Parents_v8.pdf
SFPCIP. The Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents.
http://www.fcnetwork.org/Bill%20of%20Rights/billofrights.pdf. Family and Corrections Network. FCN provides information and services for families of offenders and prisoners, returning to the community, and the impact of the justice system on families.
Online resources include:
Directory of Programs Service Children of Incarcerated Parents Children of Prisoners Library Current Research Information of Policy Change Initiatives www.fcnetwork.org