The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released a new report unveiling recommendations for serving in jail or prison.
“Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents” summarizes a Sept. 2013 “listening session” hosted by the White of Public Engagement and Domestic Policy Council. More than 40 people, including mentoring organization representatives and those designated as Champions of Change for Children of Incarcerated Parents by the last summer, contributed to the day-long session.
Over the last 20 years, the number of children in the nation with an incarcerated parent has steadily risen, the authors of the report say. They estimate 1.7 million kids currently have at least one parent serving a prison sentence, and “millions more” have a mother or father in jail. African-American youths are at substantially greater risk, the report states; black youths are three times more likely than Hispanic youths to have an incarcerated parent, and nearly seven times likelier to have an incarcerated parent than white youths.
Prior research suggests young people with incarcerated parents are more likely to have worse mental and physical health outcomes than their peers, as well as perform worse in school. The children of incarcerated parents, the report indicates, are also at greater risk of engaging in delinquent and antisocial behavior.
The “listening session” produced three specific policy recommendations for youths with imprisoned parents: the development of “strategic supports” to enhance mentoring programs, the cultivation of a “community of practice” for mentoring children with incarcerated parents and greater investments in research to pinpoint evidence-based models for mentoring children with moms and dads behind bars.
The findings, the authors state, show mentoring is a valuable resource for young people with incarcerated parents -- although working with the population does pose specific counseling challenges.
“Children of incarcerated parents are as likely as other youth to have the kinds of positive experiences in their relationships with mentors that contribute to positive outcomes,” the report says. “At the same time, attention to special considerations that may arise in mentoring children of incarcerated parents is warranted.”
The authors urge monitoring and support systems to include personalized staff check-ins not only with mentors, but the mentee’s family as well.
The authors of the study, however, note that evidence-based research regarding best practices for the population is limited. Substantial investments, the report states, are necessary to fill in current knowledge gaps, beginning with a firmer “foundational understanding and documentation” of the overall effectiveness of mentoring as an intervention for the population.