Tag Archives: Reentry

“My father is in prison”: The importance of child support and justice partnerships

A son and daughter visit their incarcerated dad--part of Sesame Street’s Little Children: Big Challenges Incarceration initiative © 2013 Sesame Workshop.

A son and daughter visit their incarcerated dad–part of Sesame Street’s Little Children: Big Challenges Incarceration initiative © 2013 Sesame Workshop.

Millions of children in this country have grown up with a parent in prison.  One in two state prisoners are parents. The data reflect strong racial disparities.  One in three black men can expect to go to prison during their lifetime. One in four black children born in 1990 had a parent in jail or prison by the time the child was 14 years old — more than double the rate of black children born in 1978, about the time when our program was getting started.

Many experts believe that the loss of a parent due to incarceration is more complicated and painful for a child than other losses.  Repeated incarceration destroys all but the strongest family relationships. Most children love their parents, miss their parents, want their parents to come home, and mourn when they are gone. Helping parents and children overcome stigma and maintain contact during incarceration can help. But a child who has lost a parent to prison may never fully get over it.

Often, children lose their primary source of financial support when their parents go to prison. Not all of this support comes through the child support program, but instead may be provided informally.  Although there are exceptions, parents are generally not able to pay child support once incarcerated.  After release, many owe an average of $23,000 or more in child support. The prospects for employment are bleak for most re-entering parents.  Many never finished high school. The combination of limited education, limited job skills, limited job openings, and a felony conviction mean that reentering parents and the families that depend upon them have little hope for steady employment.  Debt from child support, fees, and fines, and other debt adds to despair and pushes parents right back into the underground economy. Every door closes.

The OCSE website has many reentry resources including this State by State - How to Change a Child Support Order clickable map.

The OCSE website has many reentry resources including this State by State – How to Change a Child Support Order clickable map.

Many child support agencies, including those featured in this issue, have begun to do something about the collateral consequences of incarceration. They reach out to parents in federal and state prisons and jails. They take affirmative steps to reduce child support orders commensurate with the parent’s loss of income and inability to work. They provide tools for parents to communicate with the child support program during incarceration. They work with community partners to help children maintain contact with their incarcerated parent. They stop the clock on accrual of uncollectible debt. They provide targeted post-prison child support services, partnering with re-entry, fatherhood and employment programs, and helping parents manage child support debt after prison. Opportunities for child support agencies to get involved include pre-sentence orientations, facility visits, modification, debt compromise, and connection to job services and other supports.

Through shared objectives and promising practices, child support and justice partnerships at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels are helping incarcerated parents and their families.  These partnerships promote access and communication between child support agencies and parents, provide for individualized case management, work to establish trust, and improve the likelihood of employment and reliable support for children and families. Jobs and family ties keep people from going back to prison.

Our enhanced March-April Child Support Report features several model practices to consider and a list of resources. We look forward to hearing from others about your work in this critical area.


Lauren Glaze and Laura Maruschak, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, Bureau of Justice Statistic, Department of Justice, rev. 2010.

Report of the Sentencing Project: Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, 2013.

Sara Wakefield and Christopher Wildeman, Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality, 2013.

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New campaign targets children of incarcerated parents

Girl with new Sesame Street character named MurrayOn June 12, just before Father’s Day, the White House hosted a Champions of Change event honoring 12 individuals who have dedicated themselves to supporting children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers. Some of these children and caregivers attended the festivities, and so did some Muppets!

Perhaps the most exciting part of the event was the announcement of a new partnership with Sesame Workshop (a nonprofit, educational organization) to reach young children of incarcerated parents. Sesame Workshop’s newest initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, provides free, bilingual (English/Spanish), multimedia tools for families with young children (ages 3 to 8) who have an incarcerated parent. The tools include a guide for parents and caregivers, a children’s storybook, Sesame Street videos, a tip sheet, and the Sesame Street: Incarceration mobile app, all at SesameStreet.org/Incarceration.

Also at the event, the Administration released a fact sheet on its efforts to support children of incarcerated parents. It describes White House efforts to partner across the federal government to identify opportunities to support these children and their caregivers. The partnership produced a toolkit for child welfare and federal corrections professionals to ease coordination among child welfare agencies, federal prisons, and residential reentry centers, so incarcerated parents can stay engaged in their children’s lives or work toward reunification.

The group also produced Children of Incarcerated Parents Myth Busters to support efforts to help children of incarcerated parents, and launched a Web Portal. The portal consolidates information on federal resources, grant opportunities, best and promising practices, and government initiatives that support children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers.

I encourage child support professionals and stakeholders in the child support program to publicize all of these meaningful materials.

The Family Room Blog on the Administration for Children and Families website talks more about the event and the materials.

Why are we involved?

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an estimated 1.7 million children under the age of 18 had a parent in prison as of 2007—an increase of almost 80 percent since 1991. The majority of federal and state prisoners are parents, and about half of incarcerated parents have support orders. Many child support agencies have prison and jail outreach programs to work with incarcerated parents.

OCSE is involved in several projects to assist the incarcerated population, including the Federal Interagency Reentry Council.

Is your agency involved in a project to help engage incarcerated parents with the child support process and with their children? Please submit a comment on this blog.

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