Volunteers of America Support Info for Children with an Incarcerated Parent, Prisoner Families and the Community
The article below was submitted by Alanna Norman, Communications Coordinator for Volunteers of America Indiana. Volunteers of America provides support programs including housing and senior care to people across America and have helped prisoner families. Alanna wrote to us:
I think that having a blog community for families affected by incarceration is a great idea. We have a few blog posts that are targeted towards that demographic that I would like you to consider adding to your website.
The first is by one of our clinicians about coping with grief: https://www.voain.org/blog/5-mantras-to-heal-from-grief. And the second is by one of our program coordinators about resources for children affected by incarceration: https://www.voain.org/blog/children-with-incarcerated-parents.
Thank you Alanna! I think this is very appropriate for our blog community. People on the outside don’t always realize that there is a grieving process when someone is taken from you and sent to prison. Creating your own mantras can help you get through those days that are especially tough for you, or when you are going to see your loved one in prison and need that extra boost for the visit. So read the first article and give it a try. Feel free to share any mantras that have helped you!
The second article provides great resources for children of incarcerated parents and how people on the outside can help these children and the families, too. They also provide information on social services available in Indiana that can help children cope with having a parent in prison. There may be social services available in your area too, so take a look. If you find anything to share please let us know and we’ll post it.
5 Mantras to Heal From Grief
By Anna Caldwell
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness and around 1 in 25 adults in America live with a serious mental illness. As a clinician at VOAIN’s Behavioral Health Clinic, I lead group classes and provide therapy for many of these suffering people. They may have problems related to substance abuse, trauma, anxiety, and/or grief. The most prevalent issue I encounter among my clients is grief.
To heal and cope with grief, I suggest using “gratitudes.” “Gratitudes” are statements that can change your perspective and bring awareness to the good things in life. It clears away the cobwebs of past and present grief, and gives a whole new perspective of the present day.
I personally say five gratitudes each day. Here are some examples of what they may be:
- I’m grateful to be alive.
- I’m grateful for my husband.
- I’m grateful for my children.
- I’m grateful that my shoes fit. (When I work with the homeless, often their shoes don’t fit.)
- I’m grateful that I got through all these stoplights so I got to work on-time.
So sometimes they’re basic; it doesn’t have to be complex or deep. And sometimes it’s helpful to turn negatives into positives. Let’s say you’re sopping wet and cold, you could say “I’m grateful that I have the rain.” Or if something negative happens, you can be thankful for the good lesson that you will learn as a result.
Think of grief as an open wound in need of stitches. Think of the “gratitudes” as stitches. Through their application, they enable proper healing. The negative issues won’t go away (they will scar), but focusing on the positive provides a way for healing.
It’s all about healing from the past so that that you can move forward and have a life.
What can be done for children with incarcerated parents?
By Greta Compton
There are few things more heartbreaking than seeing families who are affected by incarceration fall apart because they aren’t aware of family social services that are available to them.
Through my experience in Indianapolis as the current program coordinator of Volunteers of America Indiana’s TANF program, a past treatment counselor at our behavioral health clinic, and a past social worker at the Indiana Women’s Prison, I have interacted a lot with families trying to deal with issues stemming from parental incarceration.
I have seen a grown man cry because his son told him that he didn’t want him as a father anymore. I’ve seen mothers lose hope of ever seeing their children again. And I’ve seen children struggle with trying to deal with the complexity of having a parent in prison.
Can you imagine being a child, trying to understand where your mother or father was taken, why they were taken, and who took them? Since children often don’t know how to handle their emotions associated with incarceration, they may react in several different ways. For example, they may withdraw from their parents, act out in school, or distrust authority figures, police, and the law.
To make things worse, the problem is often exacerbated because their caregiver may be too embarrassed about the family’s situation to tell other people, so they don’t get the help they need in school or in other situations. Indiana also has the second highest rate of children with an incarcerated parent in the nation.
So, what can be done to help children dealing with parental incarceration?
- Educate children about how they can cope. A few years ago, because of the success of our Look Up and Hope program, Volunteers of America helped Sesame Street produce a new character named Alex, and online resources with the intent to help children learn how to handle the complex issue of incarceration. It provides activities to help children learn how to cope with the complex feelings, emotions, and situations they may encounter as a result of parental incarceration. Learn more on their website, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.
- Visit websites such as youth.gov, childwelfare.gov, and parentinginsideout.org for more tips about helping children.
- Raise awareness of community resources for families in this situation. For example, the program that I am in charge of (the TANF program) helps fathers with a felony find a job, have healthy relationships with their family through individual and group counseling, and find stable independent housing.
- Be kindly aware of the situations that families may be in. Be compassionate when interacting with children – you never may be sure of what they’re trying to deal with.
- Donate to a nonprofit organization who provides services and counseling for children who have a parent in prison, such as our Look Up and Hope program in Marion County. These resources will help children learn more about the possibilities of the future besides incarceration.
Through these means, the community can help families affected by incarceration and reduce recidivism and crime in the future. There’s nothing better than to see children in a stable family again, flourishing in their environment and moving forward to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration.
For more information about the TANF program, contact Greta Compton at firstname.lastname@example.org
The articles in this post are reproduced with permission from Alanna Norman, Communications Coordinator for Volunteers of America Indiana.