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When a Parent Is Incarcerated - A Primer for Social Workers, Annie E Casey Foundation, 2011

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When a Parent Is Incarcerated
A Primer for Social Workers

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation acknowledges the contribution of Yali Lincroft in the research and writing of this primer. In addition,
the Foundation extends its appreciation to the following individuals and organizations who generously contributed their time and expertise to the development of this document. Child welfare consultation was provided by Ken Borelli. The section, “Domestic Violence
Issues Related to Children of Incarcerated Parents” was written by Shellie Taggart, consultant to Futures Without Violence. Editing
assistance was provided by Mary Bissell, Gerard Wallace, and Maria Palmer. Thanks also to the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated
Parents Partnership (Nell Bernstein, Bridgett Ortega, Jean Brownell, Roshawn Singleton, Katie Kramer, Debby Jeter, and Susan Arding),
the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Tanya Krupat, Gerard Wallace, Jaya Vasandani, Paula Fendall, and Dana
LeMaster), the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (Barbara Ivins, Ruth Morgan, Cynthia Rinker, and Carol
Burton), and other experts (Peter Breen, Dee Ann Newell, Susan Phillips, Wendy Cervantes, Bill Bettencourt, and Gretchen Test).
This guide should not be regarded as legal or child welfare advice and should not be used as a substitute for professional counsel that takes into
account either the specific circumstances of each agency’s or client’s situation or any notices which may be issued from federal, state, and local
officials. Child welfare policy and practice vary greatly in different jurisdictions, so it is always important to consult with competent legal and
child welfare experts. Also, the inclusion of an organization or agency in this guide does not guarantee access to its services nor does it constitute
a specific endorsement of the organization. The views presented in this guide represent those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
© 2011, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland






Child Welfare Considerations
Regarding Incarcerated Parents



Basic Information About Corrections


4 Immigrant Parents in Deportation Proceedings



For More Information





Helpful Handouts






hildren and families with incarcerated parents have been a relatively
invisible population to the public, to policymakers, and to funders.
Programs and policies, which have traditionally focused on the
offender, his or her victims, and the public safety of the community, ignore
the vast and growing number of other victims–children.”
—from Children and Families with Incarcerated Parents–Exploring Development in the Field and Opportunities for Growth1

The goal of this primer is to provide relevant and practical information for public child welfare agencies and
social workers when working with incarcerated parents.
There are many compelling reasons why child welfare
agencies should develop programs and policies specifically to address the needs of this subset of children in
the child welfare system:

• Increased Parental Incarceration Rates in
the U.S.
The United States leads the world in rates of incarceration with more than one in every 100 adults
in America in jail and prison.2 The growth in the
prison population has largely been driven by a wave
of policy trends in the 1990s aimed at sending more
lawbreakers to prison through popular “three-strikes”
measures and other sentencing enhancements to keep
inmates in prison longer.3 The number of children
with an incarcerated parent has increased by almost
80 percent since 1991, and the number of children
with a mother in prison has more than doubled
during that time.4 The increase in maternal incarceration has important implications for child welfare
agencies because most female inmates are mothers


of minor children, and many are single parents.5
Research has shown that when women with children
are incarcerated, their arrests and imprisonment
substantially increases the chances that their children
will be placed in foster care.6 National data from
parents in state and federal adult prisons found that
mothers were five times more likely than fathers to
report that their child was in foster care (11 percent
vs. 2 percent respectively).7 The disproportionality of
minority children in the child welfare system parallels
the disproportionality in the criminal justice system.
In 2007, one in 110 white children, 1 in 41 Hispanic
children and one in 15 African-American children
had one or both parents incarcerated.8

 egal Obligations of the Child Welfare Agency
to Arrested/Incarcerated Parents
An arrest of a parent in itself is not grounds for an
allegation of child abuse or neglect. Incarceration of a
parent may be considered as an additional risk factor
and, in all cases, decisions regarding an incarcerated
parent should follow laws and child welfare regulations. Incarcerated parents/legal guardians have
the right to child welfare services and reunification

as ordered by the court. Federal law requires child
welfare agencies to make “reasonable efforts” to
preserve and reunify families in most cases, but leaves
it to local jurisdictions to define what these are, on
a case-by-case basis. And, parents who are incarcerated are entitled to receive notice of all court hearings
affecting their children as required by law.9

• Improvement in Permanency Outcomes for
the Child
By engaging the incarcerated parents early and regularly throughout a child welfare case, from arrest to
re-entry, the child welfare agency can improve permanency outcomes for children of incarcerated parents.
Current federal legislation requires child welfare agencies to provide diligent searches for potential family
placement so the importance of early engagement
with the parent cannot be over emphasized. This early
engagement will hopefully result in the reduction in
the number of children entering shelter placement at
the time of arrest by identifying other safe, alternative options; engaging in early family-finding efforts
which can decrease non-relative or institutional placements; and improving the relationships between the
children, parents and care­givers through improved

• Incarceration’s Severe Impact on the Welfare
of Children
The national foster care data system offers limited
information and identifies 14,000 children who
entered foster care at least partly because of parental incarceration in 2009 alone (about 8 percent of
all children entering foster care in 2009); however,
researchers believe this number is a substantial
undercount. For example, this number does not
reflect parents who are incarcerated sometime before
or after the child enters foster care, or when a noncustodial father was not the child’s caretaker at the
time of removal.11 Although it has traditionally been
considered a topic for agencies working with criminal
justice/adult services, incarceration is increasingly
recognized as an area of concern for social service

organizations and child welfare agencies. One in
eight children who are reported victims of parental
maltreatment had a parent who was arrested within
six months of the child abuse report.12 At least one
in three children in contact with the child welfare
system has experienced the arrest of a primary caregiver at some point in their lives.13 According to the
San Francisco Department of Human Services’ child
welfare database in 2009, about 15 percent of its
overall cases involve one or both parents incarcerated
in jail or prison.14 A survey of 153 New York City
case records for children in foster care showed that
10 percent had an incarcerated parent at some point
during the one-year review period.15 And, if the data
were available on arrested/incarcerated non-custodial
parents or non-parental primary caregivers—e.g.
non-residential fathers, step-parents, siblings, grandparents—the number of children in child welfare
impacted by family incarceration would be significantly higher.16

• Termination of Parental Rights
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires
that child welfare agencies hold permanency hearings within 12 months of the child’s entering foster
care to determine permanent placement and requires
agencies to file a termination of parental rights (TPR)
when a child has been in foster care for 15 of the
most recent 22 months. However, state child welfare
agencies are not required to file a TPR if a child is
in the care of relatives, if the state has not provided
necessary services to the family consistent with the
case plan, or if the state agency documents a compelling reason why filing for TPR is not in the best interest of the child. Approximately 44 percent of inmates
released from state prisons in 2008 served sentences
longer than a year, so the timeline and possible TPR
exceptions are particularly relevant for incarcerated
parents.17 Some child welfare jurisdictions, such as
Nebraska, California, New York, and Colorado,
have enacted explicit statutory provisions that could
prevent or delay filing for TPR for incarcerated
parents in certain circumstances.18

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


• Improved Outcomes for Both Corrections and
Child Welfare
Increasingly, research and policy demonstrate the
shared interests of corrections and child welfare in
joining forces to maximize opportunities for assisting children and families involved in both systems.19
Strong family relationships motivate inmates to
participate in effective programs and maintain good
behavior, improve inmates’ states of mind, contribute to easier prison management, and greatly reduce
recidivism.20 Despite poverty and numerous personal
and social problems, most prisoners have significant
family roles and commitments prior to incarceration.21 The majority of parents in state prison—54
percent of fathers and 73 percent of mothers—are
convicted of non-violent offenses, including drug
and property offenses.22 Most parents are not “career”
criminals and continue to act as parents while incarcerated. Finally, most incarcerated parents will be
reunited with their families and children upon release
from prison.23



Child Welfare Considerations Regarding
Incarcerated Parents


’ve been a social worker for a long time and it’s heartbreaking when I
see our kids grow up in foster care and go from group home, to juvenile
hall, to jail and then to prison. And then, I see their children come into
the foster care system, and the generational cycle starts again. The corrections
and child welfare system are two complicated bureaucracies, often serving
the same families, but each operating on different timelines, different rules,
different funding. If corrections and child welfare could put our collective
resources together, perhaps we can stop this cruel, vicious cycle.”
—Susan Arding, founding member of the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative and supervising social worker
for the San Francisco Human Services Agency

Each child welfare case is unique, involving complex
issues and a host of laws, rules, and procedures designed
to balance preserving parental rights while ensuring
the child’s safety and well-being. The child welfare
system is difficult to navigate and understand, even for
non-incarcerated parents. The added complication of
families involved in both criminal and child welfare law
makes this confusion even greater.

right to regular contact and communication. Whether
reunification and visitation are part of the case plan
or expressly excluded, barring termination of parental
rights, every case manager has the same responsibilities
to both incarcerated and non-incarcerated parents. This
chapter will focus on both policy recommendations and
practical tips for child welfare agencies that fulfill those
responsibilities in cases involving an incarcerated parent.

Unless the family court has issued a ruling that releases
the child welfare agency from making “reasonable
efforts” to reunite the child with his/her birth parent,
child welfare workers are obligated to approach all cases
involving incarcerated parents with the same urgency
and respect as any other family reunification case.
And, unless the court has determined that visiting and
contact with the incarcerated parent puts the child in
danger, the incarcerated parent and the child have the

There are also two helpful handouts from Arkansas
Voices for the Children Left Behind included at the
back of this report that can help social workers in this

Time of Arrest Policies and Protocols
Child welfare agencies can potentially prevent placements and eliminate harm to children by assisting
law enforcement officials at the time of arrests. Most

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


local law enforcement agencies do not have policies
or protocols in place to guide officers’ response to
children present at the time of arrest or living in the
household of the parent being arrested, unless the arrest
was specifically for child abuse, domestic violence, or a
drug-endangered child.24 Nor do most law enforcement
agencies currently have agreements with child welfare
agencies to coordinate responses and locate appropriate caregivers, except in cases of a child abuse-specific
arrest.25 The potential for harm can be tragic, especially
in cases where a parent’s arrest can result in children
being left unattended or staying on their own, even
caring for younger siblings until noticed by neighbors
or teachers.26 A parent’s arrest can also lead to a child’s
unnecessary entry into foster care when they could be
safely cared for by a relative or friend, or result in an
unsafe placement with an inappropriate or even dangerous caregiver.27
The direct trauma caused by witnessing a parent’s arrest
is also a serious concern. A study by the University of
Illinois found that children in the child welfare system
who witness an arrest of a household member may be
psychologically traumatized by the arrest which may
result in elevated symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).28 In many cases,
PTSD symptoms can lead to more serious problems,
like the inability of children to get along with others
and succeed in school.29
To mitigate the effects of parental arrests, a handful
of jurisdictions in the country have adopted formal
protocols between police and child welfare agencies
that guide how to handle situations involving minor
children when their parents are arrested.30 For example,
New Haven, Connecticut has developed a program
between the New Haven Police Department and the
Yale Child Study Center. The program provides cross
training between police, mental health and other child
development professionals, and 24-hour acute response
services available to the police so that clinical staff can
work with children at the arrest scene. The program also
requires weekly interdisciplinary case reviews and offers
an ongoing resource for consultation between police
and child welfare workers.31


To avoid a situation in which children are unnecessarily traumatized by being overlooked at the time of
parental arrest, or left unsupervised, or forced to care
for their siblings after an arrest, some states like California, New Mexico, and Washington State, have passed
legislation that encourages law enforcement and child
welfare agencies to develop protocols and a coordinated response which often includes the following

• Joint Training with Police/Child Welfare
Workers to Minimize Trauma to Children at
the Time of Arrest
In 2007, the New Mexico legislature passed HB271,
an act requiring law enforcement to identify minor
or dependent children upon arrest, provide protocols
and guidelines, and offer a training program to help
ensure child safety upon the arrest of a parent or
guardian. Under the law, the training must include
a law enforcement option to not arrest the parent in
the presence of a child and to transport children in
non-police vehicles (such as a social worker’s car),
whenever possible.32

• Joint Response Protocols Between Police and
Child Welfare
Through thoughtful planning by police, child welfare
agencies, and other partners, many jurisdictions
have developed successful joint response protocols to
address the needs of children when their parents are
arrested. In San Jose, California, their time of arrest
protocol includes a requirement that police officers
check a box to indicate whether children are present
at the arrest scene. If a child is present, it also requires
the officer on the scene to consult with the child
welfare office for assistance and dispatch child welfare
workers to the arrest scene within 30 minutes of
receiving a call from law enforcement. The protocol
also requires law enforcement officers to consult with
child welfare staff before transporting any children
to the county children’s shelter.33 In 2006, California
passed AB1942, legislation encouraging the development of joint protocols between law enforcement and

child welfare agencies and requiring the Commission
on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop
guidelines and trainings for law enforcement officers
across the state. Model child-sensitive arrest protocols
include: guidance for looking for signs of children
who may not be present but reside with the arrested
parent, not hand-cuffing parents in front of their
children whenever possible, allowing parents to reassure their children, waiting for a designated caregiver,
not using the siren when leaving, and allowing the
parent additional phone call(s) to arrange childcare.34
California also passed AB760, a law that permits an
arrested person determined to be a custodial parent
of a minor child a minimum of two (2) phone calls
at no expense to arrange for the care of their minor
children.35 And, if a child must be picked up by
child welfare and placed in emergency shelter, some

Clara, California, have seen dramatic reductions in the
number of children entering emergency shelter care.
Instead, the children are placed with relatives and other
appropriate caregivers.39 Besides reducing trauma to
children, these successful diversions represent a major
cost savings to the county and result in improved communication and trust between law enforcement and
child welfare.40

Data Collection
Insufficient data are collected by both child welfare and
corrections organizations about incarcerated parents
and their children. When the Child Welfare League
of America surveyed child welfare systems nationwide
in the 1990s, very few agencies were able to estimate
how many children in their care had an incarcerated

“I guess some caseworkers assume your mom is a bad person when they
hear she’s incarcerated. But they should keep an open mind and remember
that every child has only one mother, one father. The ones we’re given are
special to us, even if we can’t live with them, even if they’re not perfect.”
—Youth speaker with Foster Change for Children, New York36

jurisdictions have developed policies so that a parent
is allowed to quickly notify a relative or trusted friend
so that an emergency assessment of the caregiver can
be conducted within 48 hours to prevent the child
welfare agency from having to file a dependency petition with the court.37 The New York Law Enforcement Handbook issued by the New York State
Association of Chiefs of Police includes a model and
detailed protocol for arrests when a child is present or
when the person arrested is the caretaker of a child.38
As a result of these joint protocols between police and
child welfare agency, some counties, such as Santa

parent.41 The same study found that only 21 percent
of the 38 responding states indicated that their datagathering systems capture information about parental
incarceration at the intake and assessment phases.
Of these, several states gathered that information only
under specific circumstances, such as when the parent’s
incarceration is the primary reason for a child’s placement in foster care.42 Very few corrections facilities
inquire about an inmate’s status as a parent and whether
they have children in the child welfare system.
When a parent’s whereabouts are unknown, it is
particularly important that the child welfare agency

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


consider the possibility of the parent being incarcerated
and develop intake protocols so that workers understand how to locate parents who are incarcerated in city,
state, and federal corrections facilities. In 2009, California approved legislation SB118 which required child
welfare database systems to record information about
whether a parent of a child in the child welfare system
is or has been incarcerated. The legislation was based
on the successful demonstration by the San Francisco
Department of Human Services that succeeded in collecting this information with little additional cost to the
agency. The Department was successful in collecting
this information by conducting a monthly search for
all dependency cases in which a parent is incarcerated,
by training their staff to enter the data into the appropriate field, and by developing an agreement with the
San Francisco Sheriff ’s Department for data-sharing
between the two departments.43 The child welfare
agency in New York City has a specialized unit, the
Children of Incarcerated Parents Program which provides parents and youth with help facilitating parent/
child visits, sibling visits, and case conferences.44

Communication with the Incarcerated Parent
Not surprisingly, a parent’s ability to communicate
is extremely restricted once he or she is incarcerated. They cannot easily access a phone and may not
always receive all documents and notifications about
their case plan and court hearings in a timely manner.
Offering a family conferencing model at the earliest possible opportunity with an incarcerated parent
can be extremely helpful in ensuring engagement and
smoother communication between the parent, child,
and child welfare agency. This meeting should be held
at an early juncture of the case, either within 24 hours
after removal or as soon as possible following a parent’s
arrest. This early intervention allows the child welfare
agency to avoid filing a dependency petition if other
options can be safely explored. In addition, parental
engagement at an early stage can be critical in stabilizing a case plan for a child with the lowest level of child
welfare. While this front-end case work may require
an intensive level of time-sensitive work, including the
development of new partnerships with police, sheriffs,


and other correctional organizations, this immediate
intervention strategy is critical to the overall success of
a case plan involving a child of an incarcerated parent.45
Some states, such as California and New York, have
statutes that may permit the use of videoconference or
teleconference in certain circumstances for an incarcerated parent to participate in developing the family
service plan or certain court hearings.46
Another equally important reason to find parents is
their right to receive notice. Failure to provide proper
notice to incarcerated parents will not only result in
denial of the parents’ fundamental rights, but may also
result in court continuances and possible sanctions
against the child welfare agency. Ensuring that parents
receive timely notice will help to reduce continuances
for improper notice and delay in helping children to
achieve permanency in a timely manner. Incarcerated parents may need the court to issue an “Order to
Produce” to the correctional facility, so that they can
be transported to court. Unfortunately, when parents
who are incarcerated are brought to court, and therefore away from the correctional facility, they risk falling
behind with or not completing any programs they were
participating in, or losing their place on an often long
program waiting list. A parent’s attorney should always
advise their client about whether or not it would be in
their best interests to attend court.
Unless the court has suspended the child welfare agency’s
requirements to use reasonable efforts to reunify parent
and child, child welfare jurisdictions are mandated to
work on reunification efforts with incarcerated parents
just as they would in any other cases. Though service
referrals and the parent’s ability to access helpful programs are severely hampered in prison, social workers
should still discuss the service plan with the parent,
advise her/ him to participate in any available programs,
and plan for additional community services upon release.

Adoption and Safe Families Act/Termination
of Parental Rights
The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA),
with its limited timeframes for termination of parental

rights for a child who has been in foster care for 15 out
of the most recent 22 months, has had an immense
impact on children of incarcerated parents. Given that
the average prison term for most parents in prison, even
for non-violent property or drug crimes, exceeds the 15
months period in which child welfare authorities may
begin proceedings for the legal termination of parental
rights, it is not surprising that one study found that
between ASFA’s passage in 1997 and 2002, termination proceedings of incarcerated parents has more than
However, ASFA’s termination mandate is conditioned
upon courts finding a “compelling reason” to terminate. The lapse of time is not enough. For incarcerated parents, termination usually relies on findings of
neglect or abandonment. Both circumstances can be
avoided when parents want to continue their parental
relationship and the agency succeeds in assisting the
incarcerated parent in preserving his or her parent/child
relationship. For instance, child welfare regulations
require that child welfare agencies make reasonable
efforts to facilitate visitation between children and their
incarcerated parents. Successful visitation programs can
succeed in potentially avoiding terminations.

and maintain their role as parents.50 Research has
shown that parents who maintain contact with their
children are less likely to recidivate than inmates
who do not maintain contact with their families.
Regular visits between parents and their children in
foster care are also a necessary—though not always
sufficient—step forward in the family reunification
process. As mentioned, if a child welfare caseworker
cannot locate a parent due to incarceration, or if an
incarcerated parent cannot locate a child in the child
welfare system, an abandonment finding may be
issued. A finding of technical abandonment may lead
to a change in the child’s permanency planning goal
to adoption. Once a child is headed toward the adoption track, arranging visits and parental contact may
become even more difficult.
Child welfare agencies are legally mandated to provide
visits to incarcerated parents when the goal of the case
plan is reunification. Even when the child’s permanency
goal is changed, parents retain visiting rights until their
parental rights are terminated or a court has suspended
visits. A change in the child’s permanency goal does not
eliminate the obligation to provide parent-child visits.

Re-Entry Planning
Maintaining Child-Parent Contacts During
There are many advantages related to family stability
and children’s well-being which justify connecting
children with their incarcerated parents, including:48

• For the Child
Visitation and other contacts allow the children to
express their emotional reactions to the separation
from their parents. The contact also helps the child to
develop a more realistic understanding of their parent’s circumstances, preserve important connections,
and assures the children that their parents are safe.49

As parents near their release, child welfare agencies
should also be sure to discuss the service plan with them
and the remaining steps needed to achieve reunification.
In 2008, the federal government signed into law the
Second Chance Act (PL 110-199) designed to improve
outcomes for people returning to communities from
prison and jails. This landmark legislation authorized
federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit
organizations to provide employment assistance,
substance abuse treatment, housing, victim support,
and other services that can help overcome barriers and
reduce recidivism. Most communities have a re-entry
council or services that child welfare agencies can find
by going to the National Re-entry Resource Center
website at

• For the Parent
Visitation and other contacts also allow parents to
deal with separation and loss issues, and to develop

It is important to note that in most states parents
continue to accrue child support arrearages when they

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


are incarcerated, despite their inability to pay child
support. Oregon is one of the few states that automatically modify the child support requirement to a zero
sum when a parent is incarcerated.51 However, the
more common practice is that child support orders
are not automatically suspended. Parents with child
support arrears can lose many privileges for nonpayment, including their driver’s license, garnished
wages, and federal income tax refunds for failure to pay
child support, regardless of the reason. To avoid the
adversarial consequences of child support arrears and
to encourage family reunification by engaging parents

is incarcerated (the perpetrator parent or the survivor
parent), the relationship of the children with each
parent, the legal requirements around visits, and other
considerations. The following is a partial list of possible
areas of impact on child protection work:
Engagement of Parents: The incarceration period may
be a time when both parents can be engaged in ways
that have not previously been possible. A violent parent
who is locked up may be more open to self-reflection
and building a relationship with a social worker. In
practice, however, some child protection workers do

“When a violent parent is incarcerated, a survivor parent may have
‘breathing room’ that allows her to have a conversation about what she
really wants for her family’s future…It can also, however, be a time when
a man who uses violence switches tactics of control — using a third party
to monitor or stalk her, accusing her of having affairs while he is in jail,
or insisting that she visit him frequently and then grilling the kids about
what she has been doing.”
—Shellie Taggart, child welfare consultant to Futures Without Violence

(predominately non-residential fathers) as partners in
the well-being of their children, several child support
policy initiatives have been developed throughout the
country. Provisions are often made for a settlement of
arrearages for low-income, non-custodial incarcerated
parents with the assumption that it is in the best interest
of the state and child.

Domestic Violence Issues Related to Children
of Incarcerated Parents52
It is important for child welfare agencies to understand whether domestic violence plays or has played
a role in the overall family dynamics for incarcerated
parents. Obviously, interventions depend upon who


not have or take the time to visit the jailed parent, or
may not have the skills to safely engage him. Care must
be taken to avoid informing the perpetrator about the
other parent’s behavior, either past or present.
When a violent parent is incarcerated, a survivor parent
may have “breathing room” that allows her to have a
conversation about what she really wants for her family’s
future. This period may give her the opportunity to go
to a support group or get services for children and allow
her to see more clearly what has been happening in the
relationship. The capacity to do so may also, however,
be diminished by the duties of being sole caretaker
and provider for the children. The worker should view
this period as a window of opportunity to see how the

survivor can parent in the absence of the violent partner
and to support such efforts; to connect her and her
children to appropriate services; and to help build her
support system. With all of these interventions, the
social worker should allow the survivor and the circumstances (including the length of the incarceration) to
guide the speed with which interventions occur.
Assessment of Danger and Risk to Children: When the
violent parent is incarcerated, this can provide a needed
respite for the family to make plans that enhance their
physical safety. It can also, however, be a time when a
man who uses violence switches tactics of control—
using a third party to monitor or stalk a woman, accusing her of having affairs while he is in jail, insisting that
she visit him frequently and then grilling the kids about
what she has been doing, and so on. While physical
danger or risk may be lessened, the emotional distress to
the children may increase.
Danger or risk to the children may also increase if
the non-violent parent is the one incarcerated and
the parent who is violent maintains custody. Workers
should monitor the situation closely, have regular conversations with the children without that parent present,
and stay in close contact with schools, extended family,
and others who can comment on any changes in the
children’s behaviors that indicate increased risk.
Visitation issues: Parental rights to visitation must be
balanced against rights of children to not see a parent
of whom they are afraid. State statutes that define “best
interests of children” vary, but many take into account
factors such as the age; mental and physical health of
the child and parents; “social factors” and lifestyles
of parents; emotional ties between child and parents;
and the preferences of the child, parents, and alternate
caregivers. Some are more explicit. Delaware, Kentucky,
Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas
all make explicit reference to consideration of children’s
exposure to domestic violence or violence between
adults in the home when determining what is in the
best interests of children.53

If the worker is aware that a child does not want to visit
a violent parent, she or he should be prepared to advocate for the child’s position or to inform a guardian ad
litem or Court Appointed Special Advocate regarding
the child’s wishes.
If the survivor parent is the one incarcerated and
the children are in the care of the violent parent, the
perpetrator’s control over visitation and the children
can be a source of extreme anxiety for the incarcerated
parent and children. The worker should be prepared
to try to engage the violent parent around the needs of
the children to see their mother and perhaps help to
make arrangements for the visit that do not involve the
perpetrator’s transportation or control over the visits.
Specific concepts in materials produced by Futures
Without Violence (
for Supervised Visitation Programs may have applications to visitation with incarcerated parents:

• Beyond Observation: Considerations for Advancing
Domestic Violence Practice in Supervised Visitation
discusses emotional and physical safety for children
at the visitation site, and describes a continuum of
supervised visitation strategies depending on the level
of violence and impact on the children.

• S upervised Visitation: Information for Mothers Who
Have Been Abused offers ideas for mothers to prepare
their children for visits, and suggests key questions that
may be adapted for visiting an incarcerated parent.

• F athering After Violence: Working With Abusive
Fathers in Supervised Visitation contains guiding
principles, discusses the essential connection of visitation with safety for mothers and children, and offers
guidance on assessment of risk and incorporating
cultural contexts as a path to healing.
Sometimes incarcerated abusers use the courts to force
a reluctant child to visit them. In some states, children
have successfully petitioned the court for rights to
terminate contact with their abusive parent who has

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


murdered the other parent (see Patrick’s Law in Massachusetts, for example). At least one state has enacted a
law to prevent such abuses of parental visitation rights.
In Virginia, § 20-124.2 provides that a parent or other
person having legal custody of a child may petition
the court to enjoin a parent of the child from filing a
petition relating to custody and visitation for any period
of time up to ten years if doing so is in the best interest
of the child and such parent has been convicted of an
offense constituting various violent felonies.
Appropriate Services: A period of incarceration for a
violent parent may be a time when children or children
and mother together can safely obtain appropriate
services to address a broad range of needs. High-quality
programs for children who have been exposed to violence incorporate an understanding of how a perpetrator of violence may have undermined the children’s
relationship with their mother and a focus on building
or repairing that relationship. A significant body of
research has developed around appropriate services for
kids exposed to violence, including: child witness to
violence therapeutic services, trauma-informed therapy,
reparative therapy, child-parent psychotherapy for
family violence, play therapy, and other modalities.
Programs that provide advocacy services to battered
women can be extremely helpful in providing access
to needed resources, safety planning around visits
and court appearances, and emotional support to
help women heal and make decisions for the future.
Such assistance can also help women and workers to
understand the changing dynamics of abuse during the
incarceration, and provide legal information and help
with harassing phone calls, repeated court petitions,
for visitation with children, divorce proceedings, and
other issues.


Basic Information About Corrections




esearch shows that when a parent is locked up in jail or prison,
whether locally or hours away from home, the impact on the family,
especially children, is traumatic,” according to Tanya Krupat, director of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. “Many
of the children, particularly of incarcerated mothers, end up in foster care.
They may endure shame and humiliation, face an increased risk for developing mental health problems, experience school failure or drop out, and
commonly encounter stigma from peers and adults which increases the isolation they feel. It is no wonder that human rights advocates have referred to
parental incarceration as one of the greatest threats to child well-being in the
United States.”
—From article Children with Incarcerated Parents, The Bronx Times, November 15, 2010,

While in theory, correctional facilities make accommodations for visiting and maintenance of family ties,
jails’ and prisons’ primary focus on safety and security
can make facilitating parent and child contact—as well
as caseworker contact—challenging from the perspective of a child welfare agency. Complaints voiced by
caseworkers include the long distance to the prisons;
the variations in policies, practice, and visitation rules
at each facility; communication restrictions; seemingly unnecessary intrusions on privacy, especially
for children and caregivers; a lack of private space for
caseworkers to meet with mothers; the difficulties in
getting information and making referrals for incarcerated parents to programs inside the corrections facility;

and a lack of notification when incarcerated parents are
In order to navigate these obstacles, it is important for
social workers to understand the rules of each correctional facility and to develop a relationship with the
staff at the jail and prison to better coordinate visits
and the provision of information to the incarcerated
parent, if visitation is safe and appropriate for the child.
Because each jail and prison has different visiting rules,
the best way to ensure that the incarcerated parents are
able to visit with their children is to know the deputized
staff, know the rules, and call the facility prior to a visit
(including the day of the visit) to ensure that the inmate
does not have restrictions on visits.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


Jails and Prisons
Despite that fact that the words jail and prison are often
used interchangeably, each has a different purpose, legal
authority, and population. Jails typically house people
for a shorter period of time than do prisons, usually
in their local community, often in pretrial status until
the prisoner can post bond or are adjudicated, or while
they await transfer to prison for short sentences.56 Jails
also house individuals sanctioned for noncompliance
with terms of parole, probation, and other communitybased sanctions.57 In contrast with the short-term local
purposes, some states, such as California, are now using
jails to house prison inmates because of overcrowding in state prisons.58 Given the comparative fluidity
of jail populations, it is often more difficult for child
welfare agencies to identify a parent who is in jail than
in prison.
In contrast, prison inmates have been tried and convicted of crimes and are incarcerated for long-term
confinement. A prison can be under the jurisdiction
of either the federal or state government. State prison
systems often oversee the incarceration of adult and
juvenile offenders, as well as provide parolee services to
adult and juvenile offenders. They also operate halfway
houses, work release centers, community restitution
centers—all considered medium or minimum custody
facilities. Inmates assigned to these types of facilities
are usually reaching the end of their sentence. Federal
prisons are operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons
and are designed to hold individuals convicted of
federal crimes, such as racketeering, bank robbery, and
other offenses.
The staff members that work in a jail or prison are
generally referred to as “corrections officers.” The jail
setting has both “deputized” staff (i.e., those officers
who have ranks and are either Sheriff ’s or Prison staff )
and “program staff ” (i.e., civilians who provide program
services and receive clearance to be in the jail setting
for other purposes). The jail or prison system operates
similar to the military system with ranks and supervising officers, so it is important to follow the chain
of command when seeking authorization and policy


information. Connecting with the program staff in the
corrections facility can help the child welfare agency
find out what services the inmate is already receiving
and where service and counseling gaps might be.

Parole and Probation59
Parole refers to programs providing early release from
prison sentences that are granted by the parole board
to offenders who have demonstrated that they do not
pose a risk to victims or the public. In order to qualify
for parole, prisoners must have met court-ordered
treatment programming conditions outlined on the
sentencing judgment, and show evidence of positive
change. Probation refers to a situation in which the
offender remains under supervision, but in the com­
munity rather than serving out a prison term.
Usually, the department of corrections supervises both
probationers and parolees under similar rules of super­
vision. Probationers and parolees, for example, must
refrain from using alcohol and illegal drugs and stay out
of bars and casinos. They cannot contact their victims
or travel outside designated areas without a permit. The
judge typically orders probationers and parolees to hold
jobs, to pay any outstanding fines and fees (including
victim restitution), and to participate in various types of
treatment and programming. Probationers and parolees
often meet daily, weekly, or monthly with their probation and parole officers to ensure they are complying
with the rules. Many sentences include a combination
of prison and probation and/or parole. Depending
on the circumstances, some inmates require enhanced
supervision on probation and may be confined to
certain geographic areas or required to wear an electronic ankle monitor.

Finding an Inmate
• County Jail
The parent can usually be located by contacting the
County Sheriff Department’s administrative booking
unit. Because the phone line is usually very busy, it
may sometimes be faster to go down to the jail in

person. Inmates are assigned a personal file number,
so knowing this number will help locate the parent
more quickly. Inmates often use aliases when they are
booked in county jail. Becoming acquainted with the
deputized staff can greatly assist the caseworkers since
these employees are often familiar with the repeat
offenders and their aliases and can assist in these

• State Prison
If a parent has been sentenced to a state prison, each
state usually has an office to help locate inmate (such
as the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation Identification Unit). You will need the
inmate’s full name and full birth date (month, day,
and year) or their inmate identification number. This
unit can only provide the current location and identification number for the inmate. They will not be
able to provide other information such as the inmate’s
date of release. If an inmate was recently admitted
or transferred, that information may not be available
for several days. Some states, such as New York, now
have inmate locator services available online.

• Federal Prison
If an inmate has been sentenced to a federal prison,
online searches are available, if you have the parent’s
first and last name, using the “inmate locator” tool
on the Federal Bureau of Prison website at www.bop.

Preparing for a Visit
Planning a child’s visit to prison or jail takes significant
preparation. Child welfare workers should take appropriate measures to prepare the incarcerated parent prior
to the visit about what to expect from the child, given
their present circumstances, stages of development,
and current interests. Workers should also prepare the
child prior to the visit for what to expect at the corrections facility and during the visit. Many communities
have nonprofit agencies or faith-based organizations
that assist in facilitating communication between the

caregiver, child welfare worker, child, and the incarcerated parent.

• Visiting Rules
Each corrections facility has different rules about
visiting inmates. Many jails will deal with this issue
on the day of the visit, while state and federal prisons
often have a pre-clearance procedure that can take
weeks or months. For example, inmates in California
state prison must sign a Visitor Questionnaire and
send it to any adults coming to visit. Children under
18 do not need to fill out the form but must make
sure that the person bringing them to the visit has
completed this requirement. The prison staff must
approve all visitors before they arrive which usually
takes approximately 30 working days. Similar to the
process for state prison, inmates in a federal prison are
required to give a list of proposed visitors to prison
staff, who then investigate the proposed individuals
before placing them on the approved list. An initial
list is usually established within a few days of incarceration that includes immediate family members
approved to visit. Additional family and friends may
be added to the visitors list following a more lengthy

• Child Visitor
Most jails and prison require a child under 18 to visit
only when they are accompanied by an approved
adult visitor (e.g., parent, court-appointed legal
guardian, social worker) or have a written, notarized permission to visit from the child’s parent or
legal guardian based on a certified birth certificate
or embossed abstract of birth. In some county jails,
the age requirement may allow a child to visit alone
if they are over 16. Minor children may be required
to bring their birth certificate. In addition to documentation for the child, the caregiver or child welfare
workers will also need to bring their driver’s license
and agency identifications. Each facility has its rules
regarding who must be present to supervise the child
during the visit with the parent. The custodial adult,
however, is considered responsible for the child’s

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


behavior so if the child is considered “out of control”
by the corrections staff, the visiting adult and child
may be asked to leave.

• Identification Requirements
Adult visitors, including children over 18, must be
prepared to show valid identification with a current
photograph to be able to visit. The ID must include
their name, address, and birth date. Many jails and
prisons allow an expedited process for public child
welfare workers with county identification, but it is
still important to check with the corrections facility
prior to the visit to make sure all requirements are met.

except keys and wallets, which are generally allowed
during the visit. Cell phones and cameras are generally not allowed in the visiting room. When in doubt,
it is best to ask the corrections staff about their rules
prior to the visit.

• Clothing
Most corrections facilities have a strict dress code to
discourage “inappropriate gang-related clothing or
hairstyles.” This may exclude certain colors, numbers,
hats, clothing with metal, or jewelry. The best course
is to dress conservatively to avoid any dress code

“Visiting my Dad is disturbing. I want to visit my Dad. When I visit him
it’s good. But I have to wait a long time and am not allowed to bring any
toys. It’s like 300 miles and takes a long time to get there. I can play games
when I get there but when I get there I have to wait. Then they call you and
you go into another room and wait some more. And finally I get to go into
a big cafeteria room. When we sit, they call my Dad and when he comes
in it feels nice. We visit three hours or two, I think. I’m going next week,
I think. I miss him.”
—From KARE Family Center (2011). Behind Bars—Difficult Questions Children Ask … And Answers That Might Help.
Arizona Children’s Association.60

• Personal Items
Visitors may bring money to put into an inmate’s
account but they are not allowed to bring any personal items for the inmate. This restriction means
children generally cannot bring homemade presents
to the visit. There is usually a strict list of permissible
items allowed during each visit such as baby formula,
diapers, and toys. All visitors are searched, and many
jails or prisons do not have lockers to store personal
items. It is wise to not bring any personal items


• Phone Calls
Generally, the corrections phone systems only allow
inmates to call out, but not to receive calls. Phone
calls are usually time limited (about 15 minutes) and
inmates are often able to make collect calls, although
some prisons require inmates to pay for their own
calls at considerably inflated rates.

• Mail and Packages
Generally, letters sent to inmates must be addressed
with the inmate’s full name, their department of corrections (DOC) number, the facility address, and a
legitimate return address as defined by the U.S. Postal
Service. Most facilities do not allow inmates to receive
cash, personal checks, or stamps in the mail and all
mail is inspected. Correctional facilities also regulate
the number and type of gift packages inmates can

• Contact/Non-Contact Visits
Visits in corrections facilities may include contact or
non-contact visits through glass—also called “phone
visits”—both with time limitations. Some facilities
have “contact visits” where a parent can touch and
hug their children. There is usually an upper age limit
for a contact visits with additional restrictions for
inmates who have a current or prior conviction for a
sexual crime involving a minor child.

• Preparing Children for a Visit 61
Because many prisons are located far away, visits may
require an overnight stay. There are sometimes nonprofit or community resources that can help defray
the costs of the visit for the family. The trip to the
facility will be long, so it is important to bring food,
toys, books, and entertainment for the trip. Be sure
to feed children before entering the facility since most
facilities do not allow outside food (with some possible exceptions for baby formulas and infant food).
Once inside the facility, visitors are dependent on the
food available in the institution’s vending machines.
Arrive early and prepare for long and uncomfortable
check-in procedures.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated



Immigrant Parents in Deportation Proceedings


ince the Women’s Refugee Commission began focusing on this issue in
2007, we have found that challenges to parental rights are becoming
more frequent as immigration enforcement expands. Our interviews
with detained parents continue to reveal cases in which parents are unable to
locate or communicate with their children, unable to participate in reunification plans and family court proceedings, and unable to make arrangements to
take their children with them when they leave the country.”
—Women’s Refugee Commission (December 2010). Torn Apart by Immigration Enforcement: Parental Rights
and Immigration Detention.62

Fiscal year 2010 had the highest number of undocumented immigrants deported in the history of the
United States, according to Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) officials.63 In the first nine months
of FY 2011, Latinos were 50.3 percent all federal
felony offenders sentenced (versus 16 percent the
year before).64 DHS attributed the record numbers to
increased border enforcement, workplace enforcement,
and an expansion of DHS’ programs, which use fingerprints to identify undocumented immigrants in prisons
and jails.65 In 1996, federal legislation was passed which
has had significant impact on immigrants charged with
crimes.66 This law expanded the grounds for deportation to include a broader range of offenses, removed
the ability of an immigrant defendant to ask a judge
to overturn a deportation decision, and eliminated the
ability of many immigrant defendants to be released
on bail, even if he or she is not considered a flight
risk.67 As a result, undocumented immigrants have also
ended up in removal proceedings, often for nonviolent,


low-level offenses such as driving without a driver’s
license, having broken taillights, or other minor traffic
violations. The child welfare implications of this trend
are alarming. As immigration enforcement increases,
studies point to more frequent challenges to parental
rights and numerous violations of due process.
The exact overall number of children impacted by
immigration enforcement, including those who end up
in the child welfare system, is unknown since this information is currently not collected in a consistent way by
the Department of Homeland Security or local child
welfare agencies.68 More aggressive enforcement has also
had a chilling effect on the willingness of many in the
immigrant community to seek assistance during a crisis,
such as reporting domestic violence or child abuse/
neglect, for fear of arrest, detention, and deportation.69
Undocumented immigrants are also justifiably afraid to
visit their detained friends and relatives for fear of being
detained themselves.

Who Can Be Deported?70

Locating Someone in Immigration Detention

While any person who is not a U.S. citizen can be
deported,71 non-citizen immigrants with past convictions and undocumented immigrants are particularly
at risk for deportation. However, not everyone who is
subject to removal proceedings is deported. Immigrants
with certain convictions can be deported, barred from
adjusting their status to lawful permanent resident,
or prohibited from returning to the U.S. after a trip
abroad. The type of conviction is very broad and may
even include offenses that the criminal judge considers too minor to warrant jail time. Another common
scenario is that an immigrant may finish his criminal
sentence and then be deported, either immediately or
years after the conviction. Undocumented immigrants
are deportable, regardless of whether or not they have
a conviction. However, any arrest or conviction makes
them more likely to be discovered by immigration
officials and will also make it more difficult for them to
adjust their immigration status. This would include (1)
individuals who have entered the U.S. through illegal
border crossings; (2) individuals with old deportation orders, such as those who applied for a green card
application or asylum application, or were denied and
did not know the government had started a deportation
case; and (3) those who have overstayed visitor’s visas.

Information needed to locate someone in immigration
detention includes their full name (including all aliases),
date of birth, country of birth, and their alien registration number (i.e., “A” number). This 9-digit number
(e.g., A99 999 999) can be found on most immigration
papers and on the detainee’s bracelet. U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has an online detainee
locator system that is able to identify and locate a
detainee who is currently in ICE custody or who was
released from ICE custody for any reason within the last
60 days. The online locator system cannot search for
records of persons under age 18:
odls/ The list of immigration detention
facilities is also available on the ICE website:

No Right to Appointed Counsel in Removal
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that immigration
proceedings are civil, not criminal, and therefore detainees do not have a constitutional right to appointed
counsel. The detainee must use his own financial
resources to seek out and retain private attorneys, unless
he is able to find a pro bono attorney or legal service
provider. While there are nonprofit legal organizations that provide free deportation defense services,
the supply is limited by overwhelming demand.73 As a
result, most detainees are unrepresented by counsel in
immigration court.

How to Contact Someone Detained by ICE
Individuals in immigration detention can make phone
calls, but only if they have enough money in their
accounts to buy a phone card. Some detention center
place a limit on the number of minutes a person can
talk on the phone. Detainees may also place collect calls
from some of the facilities if they are calling a number
that accepts them. There is no way to call in to an
adult immigration detention center and speak with a
detainee (although you may be able to leave a message
for someone). Detainees can only place calls, they
cannot receive them. They can also send and receive
mail. Letters can be sent to detainees by putting their
name and alien registration number above the address
of the detention center. Attorneys sending legal mail
should stamp and write on the address that it is legal
mail, so that it remains unopened and/or confidential.
If a person is no longer in ICE custody or has been
transferred to a different facility, the mail is returned to
the sender with an explanation of its return. Detainees
can send mail only if they have money in their accounts
to buy stamps. Detainees cannot receive stamps in the
mail, although there are permitted to receive photographs and cards.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


How to Visit Someone in ICE Detention
Individuals can visit detainees in immigration detention, but they will need government identification
documents to do so. Individuals who are undocumented immigrants or have past criminal convictions
should not visit someone in immigration custody, since
they are likely to be detained or placed into removal
proceedings as well. It is important to contact the facility for visiting hours and policies, such as dress code,
prior to the visit since each facility has different visiting
rules. Some facilities allow contact visits while others
only allow visits behind glass partitions. The detained
parent will probably need to fill out a form authorizing the family’s visit in advance with the children’s
names and Social Security numbers. Detained parents
with children in the child welfare system have a right
to visitation if it is included in their case plan. Attorneys usually have different visitation hours than family
members and are usually required to set up the visitation 24 hours in advance. Lists of pro bono (free) legal
organizations are supposed to be posted in all detainee
housing units and to be updated quarterly. Clergy may
visit detainees but often must make prior arrangements
with the detention facility’s chaplain office. Consular
officials are usually allowed to meet with their detained
nationals at any time.

Detention Center Personnel
The ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations
(ICE-DRO) website provides information about different local ICE-DRO offices:
contact.htm. The ICE Field Director is in charge of the
facility. Each detainee has a specific deportation officer
in charge of their case. Cases are generally assigned by
nationality or by last name and the deportation officer
has a direct telephone line for communication.

Detention Transfer Policy
Detainees are often transferred from their initial detention facilities to remote locations, sometimes experiencing multiple transfers without regard to whether the
detainee is to participate in dependency court proceedings. DHS’ state policy requires notification within

24 hours of transfer to the detainee’s attorney.74 Social
workers can contact the detainee’s deportation officer
and ICE field officer and request that these officials
use their discretion to prevent the transfer of a parent
involved in a dependency court proceeding.

An Overview of the Removal Proceedings for
an Incarcerated Parent
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the branch
of the Department of Homeland Security responsible
for carrying out enforcement actions. After a foreignborn parent is incarcerated and finishes his or her
sentence, ICE has the authority to question and obtain
information about people who are incarcerated for
criminal convictions. If ICE believes this person can be
deported from the U.S., they will place an “immigration
detainer” (also known as an “ICE hold”) on the noncitizen. The detainer allows ICE to pick up a person
within 48 hours after he or she is released from criminal custody in order to transfer them to ICE custody.
Some states have programs that allow the non-citizens
incarcerated in prisons or jails to be released into the
custody of ICE before the completion of their full
sentence for the sole purpose of deportation. However,
if ICE has not picked up the individual within 48-hours
of the time he or she is released from custody (excluding weekends and holidays) and the ICE detainer is the
only basis for retaining custody, federal regulation does
not permit continued incarceration of the individual.75
Each case is different. Some individuals are detained by
ICE for only a few days while other detentions may last
several weeks or months. While some cases can last a
very long time (up to several years), this usually occurs
if the detained individual decides that they want to continue to appeal the judge’s decisions regarding their case.
After an immigrant is transferred to immigration
custody, one of three things may happen:
to Deportation. If someone can be
deported from the U.S., ICE may give them the chance
to voluntarily consent to or “sign for” their deportation. If they sign for their deportation and they are from
Mexico, they may be sent back to Mexico within several

days. However, even if they sign this form, a judge may
decide that they are eligible for a case of immigration
relief and refuse to accept the deportation order. If this
happens, the person will be required to see an immigration judge.
Before an Immigration Judge. When a
detained individual appears before an immigration
judge, he has the right to contest his deportation, apply
for relief from deportation, and request voluntary
departure. Once someone is transferred to immigration custody, it usually takes several weeks until his first
hearing in front of the judge. If a person knows that
they want to request deportation, they may do so at
the first hearing. If they want to fight their case, they
will likely have several hearings and their case may last
several months or even years.

important to note that in all cases, automatic deportations can be stopped if a person expresses a fear of
returning to their country, at which point they must be
permitted to see an immigration judge.

Challenging Deportation
While each case is different, there are many grounds on
which an individual may challenge their deportation,
including temporary protected status or having a parent
who is a U.S. citizen, and a range of other circumstances. An experienced immigration attorney can help
the detainee to assess and present their case in front
of an immigration judge, although it may take several
hearings for the judge to make a decision. If a person
loses his or her case in front of an immigration judge,
the individual also has the right to appeal that decision.

“When asked whether they had encountered cases in which one or more
family members were in immigration detention facilities, the majority
of judges, social workers, and attorneys had encountered it … and many
reported its occurrence significantly more recently.”
—Interviews with Arizona court and child welfare personnel, University of Arizona, 201176

Deportation. There are several situations
in which an individual may be automatically deported
without signing any documents or without appearing before an immigration judge. First, they may have
been previously deported, so ICE can simply use the
old order to deport them immediately without appeal.
Second, if a person is undocumented and has been
convicted of an “aggravated felony,” ICE has the power
to deport him without appearing before an immigration judge. Third, if someone is from a country other
than Mexico and is caught within 14 days of crossing
the border and 100 miles from the border, a person may
be denied the right to see an immigration judge. It is

Getting Out of Detention
There are three main ways to be released from
A bond is an amount of money paid to ICE
as a guarantee that the person will attend all hearings,
obey conditions of release, and comply with the judge’s
final order, even it if means having to leave the U.S.
If the bond amount is too high for the individual to
pay, he can request an immigration bond for a lower
amount. A person’s eligibility for a bond may depend
on whether he enters the U.S. legally or has any type
of lawful status at the present time.77 Whether or not

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


they have lawful status, immigrants who have a drug
or firearm conviction are not eligible for a bond. An
individual may also not be eligible for a bond if he has
other convictions, including theft, assault, or using false
documents. If a person is eligible for a bond and pays
it, he can be released from detention for the duration
of the immigration case, as long as he complies with
the regulations for release. If an individual out on bond
doesn’t show up for the hearing, he forfeits the bond
money and is the subject of an automatic order of
removal in absentia.

Humanitarian Guidelines78
In 2007, ICE developed internal humanitarian guidelines that apply to workplace raids involving the arrest
of more than 25 people. The guidelines called for
expedited release of pregnant women, nursing mothers,
and sole caretakers of minor children as well encouraged
close coordination with state child welfare agencies.
While these guidelines have reduced family separation
for undocumented workers in larger sweeps, they do
not apply to smaller groups or individual arrests. In

“Over 5 million children in America have at least one undocumented
parent, and the vast majority are U.S.-born citizens. When a single mother
is detained by immigration authorities without the opportunity to make
care arrangements for her child, that child may be turned over to the foster
care system without any idea of what happened to his mother. When an
undocumented mother is scared to call the police when her husband abuses
her, she is left powerless in defending her child’s safety as well.”
—From Blog, “My Mother’s Story” by Wendy Cervantes, Vice President, Immigration and Child Rights Policy, First Focus

on individual recognizance: In some limited
cases, ICE or an immigration judge can release the
detainees without having to pay a bond. Sometimes, a
detainee can be released under “alternatives to detention,” programs run by private companies hired by ICE.
ICE may also release any individual from
detention on “parole.” Sometimes, the detainee is asked
to pay money as part of the parole guarantee and sometimes there are other conditions attached to the parole.
An individual cannot appeal the denial of a parole


June 2011, ICE issued a memorandum directing their
staff to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in individual
cases by declining, delaying, or terminating removal
proceedings for cases where people have longstanding
ties to the community, U.S. citizen family members, or
other characteristics that merit a favorable exercise of
Given these guidelines, it is important that the detained
parent tell their deportation officer immediately that
they are a sole caregiver for minor children and request
to be released on bond or under alternate supervision.
Explaining their situation to the deportation officer
does not guarantee release but is worth requesting.

Having the Parent Designate Someone to Act
on Their Behalf While They Are Detained80
Ideally, the children of the detained parent are already
in someone else’s responsible care, such as another
parent or designated guardian. However, if the detained
parent is the sole caregiver to the child, he or she may
consider appointing a temporary guardian to look after
the child in order to avoid unnecessary involvement
with the public child welfare system. Legal authority
will help the caregiver obtain medical care for the child,
register the child for school, and obtain a passport if
needed. Each state has different procedures for how
a parent designates legal authority, including custody
or guardianship, each with different legal processes
depending on the state.81 The parent may also consider
giving a trusted friend or relative “power of attorney” to
make certain decisions on behalf of the individual and
the child while the parent is detained or after deportation, such as paying bills, selling a car or other property,
or closing a bank account. Granting someone power of
attorney or consenting to legal guardianship approved
by the court conveys significant responsibilities, so it is
important that the detained parent identify a relative or
other guardian that they trust completely.

Participation by Detained Parents in
Dependency Court Hearings82
Detained or deported parents have a difficult time
participating in dependency court hearings when their
children are involved with the child welfare system.
A detained parent is usually not able to attend dependency court hearings unless he or she is eligible for and
can afford a bond to secure their release from custody.
ICE usually will not release a person in custody to
attend another court proceeding. Immigrants who
have been deported are usually not allowed to re-enter
the U.S. legally to attend a hearing after deportation, although some child welfare agencies have been
able to make arrangements for parents to appear in
court through telephonic or web-based appearances.83
Because immigration detention centers are different

from criminal detention facilities, they currently have
no services or classes available to help a parent with

The Role of Foreign Consulates84
There are several ways that foreign consulate can
intervene in immigration proceedings. According to
the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, law
enforcement agencies are required to notify all arrestees
of their rights to contact their respective consulates.85
The foreign consulate may provide in-person interviews
with any nationals in custody to ensure that they have
not been subject to abuses or other violations while in
detention, assist with required travel documents prior
to deportation, notify families about the deportation
process, etc. A list of foreign consular offices is available
online at If the child is a
U.S. citizen, the consulate may be able to advocate on
behalf of the detained immigrant parent since children
are often able to obtain dual citizenship.

Returning Children to Their Country of
If the detained parent has lost his immigration case or
decided to return to his country of origin, that parent
may request that their children be permitted to return
with them. For example, an immigration judge may be
able to order that the family be reunited at the airport
prior to deportation. This may be a complicated process
if the child is in custody of the other parent, legal
guardian, or under the supervision of the child welfare
system. In these situations, the detained parent may
consider the following:
• If the child was born in the United States, the parents
should have original copies of important vital documents such as the child’s birth certificate and Social
Security card before they leave the U.S. The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention has instructions
on how to obtain certified copies of birth certificates

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


• If a child is a U.S. citizen and does not yet have a U.S.
passport—or needs to renew it—he or she can use
the passport instructions and applications available at
many post offices.87 The detained parent will need to
complete a special form in person in the presence of
a notary called “Notarized Statement of Consent or
Special Circumstances” (DS-3053) explaining why he
cannot go with his child. The child must go in person
to apply for the passport with their other parent. If
the other parent is unavailable or there is no courtappointed legal guardian, the absent parent will need
to show legal evidence that he has sole custody of the
child. While a court order is the best proof of sole
custody, a notarized letter from the government, religious official, or death certificate of the other parent
may also be accepted as sufficient evidence. If the
child is in the child welfare system, the child welfare
caseworker should be able to help the child get the
U.S. passport. The parent may also need to contact his
or her consulate to obtain the appropriate travel documents if the child has dual nationality.
• If the child is not a U.S. citizen and does not have a
passport, the parents will need to contact their consulate to find out the application process.
• If the child is traveling with an adult, he or she will
need a notarized permission letter or other special
documentation for adults accompanying minors out
of the country. Check with the airline for specific
guidance on specific travel requirements. The airlines
will also provide specific instructions for older children traveling unaccompanied from the United States
to another country.
• It is also possible for deported immigrants to prepare
or amend a valid power of attorney (POA) agreement
after deportation. The most straightforward way to
do so is to have either the deported parent or a notary
public (or similar official in the immigrant’s home
country) draft the POA, have the POA notarized, and
then have the POA “apostilled.” An “apostille” is a
way to authenticate or legalize documents so they will
be honored in another country.88



For More Information

General Overview
• The Annie E. Casey Foundation website has numerous resources available for free download under its
“children of incarcerated parents” publication search.
• Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families’
website has numerous resource available for free
download under its “children of incarcerated parents”
publication search, including an issue of their grantmaker magazine focused specifically on this issue.
• The San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents
Partnership developed a “Bill of Rights of Children of
Incarcerated Parents” which has received national and
international attention, including a “Rights to Realities” replication campaign. Large quantities of this
brochure can be ordered at
• The National Resource Center on Children and Families of Incarcerated Parents at the Families and Corrections Network has information for service providers,
sponsors webinars and conferences, and provides technical assistance to organizations.
• Bernstein, N. (2005). All Alone in the World. New
York, New York: The New Press.
• Krupat, T., Gaynes, E., Lincroft, Y. (May 2011). A
Call to Action: Safeguarding New York’s Children of
Incarcerated Parents. New York Initiative for Children
of Incarcerated Parents/Osborne Association.

• Barnard Center for Research on Women (Spring
2010). The Scholar and Feminist Online, Children of
Incarcerated Parents, Issue 8.2.
• Nickel, J., Garland, C., Kane, L, (2009). Children of
Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers. New York, NY: Council of State Governments
Justice Center.
• Eddy, J.M, Poehlmann, J. (2010). Children of
Incarcerated Parents—A Handbook for Researchers and
Practitioners. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
• De Masi, M., Bohn, C.T. (Sept 2010). Children
with Incarcerated Parents—A Journey of Children,
Caregivers and Parents in New York State. Rensselaer, New York: Council on Children and Families.

For Child Welfare Agencies
• United States Government Accountability Office
(Sept 2011). Child Welfare—More Information and
Collaboration Could Promote Ties Between Foster Care
Children and Their Incarcerated Parents. GAO-11-863.
Washington DC.
• Northern California Training Academy (Spring 2008).
Out of the Shadow: What Child Welfare Workers Can
Do to Help Children and their Incarcerated Parents.
Davis, CA: The Center for Human Services–UC
Davis Extension.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


• Washington Department of Social and Health Services
(DSHS) has created resources and video training on
children of incarcerated parents issues. www.dshs.
 argolies, J., Kraft-Stolar, T. (Feb 2006). When
“Free” Means Losing Your Mother: The Collision of
Child Welfare and the Incarceration of Women in New
York State. New York, NY: Corrections Association of
New York.
 llard, P., Lu, L. (October 2006). Rebuilding Families,
Reclaiming Lives: State Obligations to Children in Foster
Care and Incarcerated Parents. Brennan Center for
 enter for Advanced Study in Child Welfare (Spring
2008). CW 360—A Comprehensive Look at a Prevalent
Child Welfare Issue—Children of Incarcerated Parents.
University of Minnesota. (Editors Traci La Liberte and
Elizabeth Snyder),
 rayton, A., Mukamal, D., Jannetta, J. (August
2010). Partnering with Jails to Improve Reentry—
A Guidebook for Community-Based Organizations.
Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

For Clients—Parents and Caregivers
 ARE Family Center (2011). Behind Bars—Difficult
Questions Children Ask…And Answers That Might
Help. Tucson, AZ: Arizona Children’s Association.
 ehr, H., Amstutz, L.S. (2011). What Will Happen to
Me? Intercourse, PA: Good Books. www.goodbooks.
 ISE—By and For Parents in the Child Welfare
(Summer 2008). Parenting from Prison (Issue No.
10). New York, NY: Youth Communications.


• S azie, E., Ponder, D. (2003). How to Explain
Jails and Prison to Children—A Caregiver’s Guide.
Portland, OR: Oregon Department of Corrections.
 egal Services for Prisoners with Children (2007).
Incarcerated Parents: Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities. San Francisco, CA: Legal Services for Prisoners
with Children. Available in English and Spanish.
 ammer, V. , Bucci, M. (2008). Florida Manual for
Incarcerated Parents (2008).
 aby Mamas United (2008). It’s My Life: A Young
Mother’s Guide to Surviving the System. San Francisco,
CA: Center for Young Women’s Development.
 rojectWHAT! (Updated May 2008). ProjectWHAT!
Resource Guide for a Teen with a Parent in Jail or
Prison. Berkeley, CA: Community Works West.
 rkansas Voices for Children Left Behind (2008).
Handbook for Kinship Caregivers. Little Rock,
AR: Arkansas Voices for Children Left Behind.!userfiles/docs/Handbook_
 ontana Alliance of Families Touched by Incarceration (2009). Family Members Behind Bars: Difficult
Questions Children Ask… And Answers that Might
Help a Caregiver—A Guide to Montana’s Criminal
Justice System From Arrest to Release.
 ew York Kinship Navigator is a statewide program
designed to provide information and resources to
kinship caregivers.

 merican Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Online Database—Grandcare Support Locator.
 regon Department of Corrections (2001). How to
Explain Jails and Prisons to Children—A Caregivers
 alifornia Department of Corrections and Rehabili­
tation and Friends Outside. How to Explain Jails
and Prisons to Children—A Caregiver’s Guide.
 epartment of Social and Health Services
(December 2009). A Behavioral Health Toolkit
for Providers Working with Children of the
Incarcerated and their Families. Olympia, WA:
Department of Social and Health Services.

• The National Reentry Resource Center, established by
the Second Chance Act, provides education, training,
and technical assistance to agencies working on prisoner reentry.

Immigrants in the Child Welfare System
 ppleseed and the Annie E. Casey Foundation
(2009). Protecting Assets & Child Custody in the Face
of Deportation—A Guide for Practitioners Assisting
Immigrant Families.

 ridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
(BRYCS). BRYCS is the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s national technical assistance provider on
refugee child welfare issues and maintains an extensive
clearinghouse of resources on immigration and child
welfare issues.
 etention Watch Network (DWN) website includes
information in English and Spanish for detained
clients and support agencies, including an interactive
map of all detention facilities in the U.S., a directory
of low-cost or free immigration legal providers, a community resource guide, and a guide to visiting detention facilities.
• The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project’s
website includes information about immigration law
and detention procedures including “Know Your
Rights” packets and self-help materials.
• I mmigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). ILRC provides legal assistance for judges, attorneys and others.
Their website includes publications, webinars and
their “lawyer of the day” service.
• I nternational Social Service United States of America
Branch, Inc. (ISS-USA) is a member of a network of
more than 150 social work providers around the world
which provides searches for families, conducts home
studies and post-placement reports, certifies adoptive
home studies, mediates family conflicts across borders,
and provides training and technical assistance to the
U.S. child welfare system.

 merican Humane Association website includes
many resources, including tool kits for social
workers working with immigrant families in the
public child welfare system. www.americanhumane.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated




1 Bouchet, S. (January 2008). Children and Families with
Incarcerated Parents—Exploring Development in the Field and
Opportunities for Growth. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey
2 Pew Center on the States (2008). One in 100: Behind Bars in
America 2008. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
3 Ibid.
4 Glaze, L, Maruschak, L. (2008). Parents in Prison and their
Minor Children NCJ 203947. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
5 Lee, A., Genty, P. (2005). The Impact of the Adoption and Safe
Families Act on Children of Incarcerated Parents. Washington
DC: Child Welfare League of America.
6 Ross, T., Khashu, A., & Wamsley, M. (2004). Hard data on
hard times: An empirical analysis of maternal incarceration, foster
care and visitation. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.
7 Harrison, P.M., Beck, A.J (2006). Bureau of Justice Statistics
Bulletin: Prisoners in 2005. Washington D.C: U.S. Department
of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
8 Christian, S. (March 2009). Children of Incarcerated Parents.
Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislators.
9 Excerpt from San Francisco Department of Human Services—
Family and Children’s Services Handbook Section 54-4
Arrested and Incarcerated Parent (Revised 9/04/09).
10 Rinker, C. (2007). Children of Incarcerated Parents: Innovative
Strategies in the City and County of San Francisco. Berkeley,
CA: Bay Area Social Services Consortium. http://cssr.berkeley.
11 United States Government Accountability Office (Sept 2011).
More Information and Collaboration Could Promote Ties
Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated Parents.
GAO-11-863. Washington DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office.
12 Phillips, S., Gleeson, J. (July 2007). Children, Families, and
the Criminal Justice System: 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. Chicago, ILL: Center for Social Policy and Research,
Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at


13 P
 hillips, S., Dettlaff, A. (2009). More Than Parents in Prison:
The Broader Overlap Between the Criminal Justice and Child
Welfare System. Journal of Public Child Welfare, Vol.3:3-22.
14 P
 resentation by Jean Brownell, on behalf of the San Francisco
Department of Human Services to the New York Initiative
for Children of Incarcerated Parents (May 2009).
15 C
 hildren’s Right (2009). The long road home: A study of
children stranded in New York City foster care. New York, New
York: Children’s Right.
16 R
 aimon, M., Lee, A., Genty, P. (Dec 2009). Sometimes Good
Intentions Yield Bad Results—ASFA’s Effect on Incarcerated
Parents and their Children. Intentions and Results: A Look Back
at the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Washington DC: Center
for the Study of Social Policy and the Urban Institute.
17 U
 nited States Government Accountability Office (September 2011). More Information and Collaboration Promote
ties Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated
Parents. GAO-11.863. Washington DC: U.S. Government
Accountability Office.
18 Ibid.
19 C
 enter for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (Spring 2008).
Children of Incarcerated Parents. CW 360: A Comprehensive
Look at a Prevalent Child Welfare Issue. St Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, Center for Advanced Studies in Child
20 A
 llard, P, Lu, L, (2006). Rebuilding Families, Reclaiming Lives:
State Obligations to Children in Foster Care and Their Incarcerated Parents. New York, NY: Brennan Center for Justice at
New York University School of Law. http://brennan.3cdn.
21 H
 airston, C. (Spring 2008). Children with Parents in Prison:
Child Welfare Matters. CW 360 – Children of Incarcerated
Parents (p.4). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, Center
for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare.
22 A
 llard, P., Lu, L. (2006). Rebuilding Families, Reclaiming
Lives: State Obligations to Children in Foster Care and Their
Incarcerated Parents. New York, NY: Brennan Center for
Justice at NYU School of Law.

23 Ibid.
24 Puddefoot, G., Foster, L. (July 2007). Keeping Children Safe
When Their Parents are Arrested: Local Approaches that Work.
Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau.
25 Nolan, Clare (July 2003). Children of Arrest Parents: Strategies to Improve Their Safety and Well-Being. Sacramento, CA:
California Research Bureau.
26 In the case of White v. Rochford (7th Circuit, 1979), Chicago
police arrested a driver who had three young children as passenger. The police arrested the adult but did not arrange for
childcare for the children. The children were left attended and
found several hours later by family members. In the case of
Walton v. City of Southfield (6th Circuit, 1993), a 15 year old
and a 2 year old were left alone in a public building after the
arrest of their mother. Six hours later, with no food or diapers,
family members arrived to take them home. Case citation from
“Keeping Children Safe at the Time of Parental Arrest” presentation by Bridgett Ortega, Policy Consultant, to the California
Family to Family Coordinator’s Meeting (April 21, 2008).
27 Nolan, C. (July 2003). Children of Arrested Parents: Strategies to Improve their Safety and Well Being. Sacramento,
CA: California Research Bureau.
28 Phillips, S. (August 2010). An Exploratory Study of the
Range of Implications of Families’ Criminal Justice System
Involvement in Child Welfare Cases. Children and Youth
Services Review. CYSR1230.
29 Ibid.
30 Martha Shirk (March 1, 2008). Cops Call for Backup—
From Social Workers. Youth Today.
31 Description of the Child Development-Community Policing
model available online at the Yale School of Medicine—
Child Study Center,
32 The New Mexico ppt training (2008) is available online at
33 Martha Shirk (March 1, 2008). Cops Call for Backup—
From Social Workers. Youth Today.

36 K
 rupat, T., Gaynes, E., Lincroft, Y. (May 2011). A Call
To Action: Safeguarding New York’s Children of Incarcerated
Parents. New York, NY: New York Initiative for Children of
Incarcerated Parents/The Osborne Association.
37 Ibid.
38 K
 rupat, T., Gaynes, E., Lincroft, Y. (2011). A Call for Action:
Safeguarding New York’s Children of Incarcerated Parents. New
York, NY: New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated
Parents/The Osborne Association.
39 P
 uddefoot, G., Foster, L. (July 2007). Keeping Children Safe
When Their Parents are Arrested: Local Approaches that Work.
Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau.
40 Ibid.
41 S eymour, C. (Sept/Oct 1998). Special Issue: Children with
Parents in Prison, Child Welfare Journal of Policy, Practice and
42 Ibid.
43 A
 uthor Interview with the children of incarcerated parent
social worker at the San Francisco Department of Human
Services (Winter 2009).
44 S ee Administration of Children’s Services—Parent Handbook (2009).
45 I nterview notes with Child Welfare Consultant/Former Santa
Clara County Deputy Director Ken Borelli (January 2009).
46 United States Government Accountability Office (Sept 2011).
More Information and Collaboration Could Promote Ties
Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated Parents.
GAO-11-863. Washington DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office.
47 I t should be noted that families subjected to the ASFA
timeline are typically not those in which a parent is incarcerated for a crime of violence against a child, which are covered
under another provision of ASFA which mandates the filing
of termination petition against a parent who has committed
serious acts of physical abuse their children. See Raimon, M.,
Lee, A., Genty, P. (Dec 2009). Sometimes Good Intentions
Yield Bad Results—ASFA’s Effect on Incarcerated Parents
and their Children.

34 Krupat, T., Gaynes, E., Lincroft, Y. (2011). A Call for Action:
Safeguarding New York’s Children of Incarcerated Parents. New
York, NY: New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated
Parents/The Osborne Association.

48 E
 xcerpt from New Mexico Child Abuse & Neglect Citizen
Review Board—Best Practice Bulletin (2006). Children with
Incarcerated Parents.

35 Puddefoot, G., Foster, L. (July 2007). Keeping Children Safe
When Their Parents are Arrested: Local Approaches that Work.
Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau.

49 A
 uthor interview with Dee Ann Newell, Executive Director,
Arkansas Voices for Children (Spring 2009).

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


50 Hairston, C. (2007). Focus on Children with Incarcerated
Parents: An Overview of the Research Literature. Baltimore,
MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
51 In July 2000, the Oregon Child Support Program adopted
Oregon Administrative Rule 461-200-3300. This rule
established the rebuttable presumption that an inmate
incarcerated in any state, county or municipal correctional
facility for a period exceeding 180 days, if having an income
of less than $200.00 per month, would be legally presumed
unable to pay support. This presumption would entitle the
inmate to request the order be modified to zero dollars per
month while incarcerated but would revert to the original
amount automatically on the 61st day after release. Oregon
Revised Statute 416.425 provides for the order to revert to
the original amount. This rule and statute are available at:

61 H
 elpful handouts to help prepare caregivers and children for
visits with incarcerated parents written from a child’s developmental perspective are available from the Family and Corrections Network Library such as Visiting Mom and Dad—The
Child’s Perspective, Why Maintain Relationships?, Jail and
Prison Procedures, Communication Tips for Families.

52 This section, “Domestic Violence Issues Related to Children
of Incarcerated Parents” is written by Shellie Taggart, Consultant to Futures Without Violence.

63 L
 os Angeles Times (October 6, 2010). Deportation of
illegal immigrants hit record high, officials announce.

53 Determining the Best Interests of the Child: Summary of
State Laws. (2005) Child Welfare Information Gateway
State Statute Series. Available at

64 A
 ssociated Press (Sept 8, 2011). “Immigration Offenses
Make Latinos New Majority in Federal Prisons, Report Says.”
Retrieved 10/10/11 from

54 Much of this information is adapted from a workshop presentation by Yali Lincroft (First Focus Consultant), Roshawn
Singleton (Friends Outside), Kelli Finley (Community Works
West), and Bridgett Ortega (SFCIPP consultant), as well
as excerpts from Resource Guide for Teens with a Parent in
Prison or Jail (2nd edition, Spring 2008) by ProjectWHAT—A
Program of Community Works and Tips for Facilitating a Visit
Between a Child and an Incarcerated Parent from Northern
California Training Academy (Spring 2008). Out of the
Shadow: What Child Welfare Workers Can Do to Help Children
and their Incarcerated Parents. Davis, CA: The Center for
Human Services–UC Davis Extension.

65 Ibid.

55 Family to Family, Women’s Prison Association and Home,
Inc. (2001), Partnership Between Corrections and Child
Welfare—Collaboration for Change, Part Two. Baltimore, MD:
Annie E. Casey Foundation.
56 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The Urban Institute,
and Alternative Solutions Associates (Aug 2010). Partnering
with Jails to Improve Reentry—A Guidebook for CommunityBased Organizations. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
57 Ibid.
58 Office of the Governor (March 6, 2007). Press Release—Governor Schwarzenegger Tours Overcrowded State Prison in Norco.
59 This information is adapted from the Montana Alliance of
Families Touched by Incarceration (2009). Family Members
Behind Bars: Difficulty Questions Children Ask…And Answers
that Might Help a Caregiver—A Guide to Montana’s Criminal
Justice System From Arrest to Release.


60 F
 rom KARE Family Center (2011). Behind Bars—Difficult Questions Children Ask … And Answers That Might
Help. Tucson, AZ: Arizona Children’s Association.

66 Ibid.
67 Ibid.
68 C
 ervantes, W., Lincroft, Y. (March 2010). The Impact of
Immigration Enforcement on Child Welfare. Washington DC:
First Focus.
69 L
 arry Tung (June 1, 2009). Breaking Down Barriers in
the Fight Against Domestic Violence. Gotham Gazette.
70 This information is adapted from the following resources—
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (March 2009).
Help! I Can’t Find the Parents—A Guide to the Immigration
Detention System and Immigration Court in Arizona for people
working in the Juvenile Dependency Court; Detention Watch
Network (Revised May 2010). Deportation 101: A Commu­
nity Resource on Anti-Deportation Education and Organizing.
71 While U.S. citizens cannot be deported, the government can
attempt to take away the citizenship of a naturalized citizen
if they can show that the naturalization was gained through
fraud. Once the person is stripped of their citizenship, they
will then be vulnerable to deportation. From Detention
Watch Network (Revised May 2010). Deportation 101.

72 Markowitz, P. L. (November 1, 2009). Barriers to Representation for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation: Varick Street
Detention Facility—A Case Study. Fordham Law Review, Vol.
78, p. 541, 2009.
73 Detention Watch Network has links to reputable attorney
referral websites, as well as self-help legal materials for those
fighting their own case.
74 Markowitz, P. L. (November 1, 2009). Barriers to Representation for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation: Varick Street
Detention Facility—A Case Study. Fordham Law Review, Vol.
78, p. 541, 2009.
75 Murtagh-Monks, K. (Summer 2010). Immigration Detainers,
DOCS’ Authority to Hold an Alleged Alien and Deportation
& Removal from the United States—Clearing Up the Misconceptions. Pro Se, Vol.20, No.4: Summer 2010. Published
by Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York.

85 The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (article
2) describes protecting the interests of foreign nationals,
including issuing passports and other travel documents, safeguarding interests of minors who are foreign nations, visiting
a national who is in custody, or detention (article 36c), and
receiving information and participating in decision about who
is to be appointed the guardian(s) or trustee(s) in the interests
of minors (article 37b).
86 F
 lorida Immigrant Advocacy Center (July 2010). Detainees
with Minor Children: Frequently Asked Questions.
87 A
 lso available online at
88 A
 ppleseed and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2009).
Protecting Assets & Child Custody in the Fact of Deportation—
A Guide for Practitioners Assisting Immigrant Families.

76 Rabin, N. (May 2011). Disappearing Parents: A Report
on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System.
Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona.
77 Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (March 2009).
Help! I Can’t Find the Parents.
78 Cervantes, W. & Lincroft, Y. (March 2010). The Impact of
Immigration Enforcement on Child Welfare. Washington, DC:
First Focus.
79 Immigration Policy Center (Updated Sept 2011). Understanding Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Law. Washington,
DC: Immigration Policy Center. http://immigration
80 Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (July 2010). Detainees
with Minor Children: Frequently Asked Questions.
81 The American Bar Association has many resources on
guardianship, including a list of Guardianship Video
Resources (August 2010)
82 Cervantes, W. & Lincroft, Y. (March 2010). The Impact of
Immigration Enforcement on Child Welfare. Washington, DC:
First Focus.
83 Lincroft, Y (Sept/Oct 2008). “Helping California’s Immigrant
Families: An Interview with Four California Social
Workers.” Children’s Voices, Child Welfare League of America.
84 Detention Watch Network (Revised May 2010).
Deportation 101.

When a Parent Is Incarcerated


Dear Incarcerated Parent – it’s important to
write letters to your child
By Dee Ann Newell, MA, Executive Director and Founder
Arkansas Voices for Children Left Behind,, Sept, 2011

Having worked for more than two decades with incarcerated parents and their children, I wanted
to share my observation on the importance of letter writing. My agency, Arkansas Voices Left behind,
utilize letter writing as part of our parenting from prison and jail curricula, as well as a way to provide
support for the children left behind. I have had the chance to read letters written by the parent, read
letters received by the child, and read letters written by the children to their parents. Here are my
insights based on these different lenses of observation.
When children are separated from their parents due to parental incarcerated, many parents rediscover the almost-lost art form of letter writing. While phone calls and contact visits are also
important, letter writing offers as a valuable form of communication – one that is tangible and can be
read and re-read by a child throughout their life.
First, regardless of what your child may say, children need someone who will love them
unconditionally, a love that is invaluable when it comes from a separated parent. Children are always
looking to their parents for this acceptance. When they feel that you, their parent, truly value them, you
provide them with the courage and resilience to overcome feelings of self-doubt, knowing that they have
a place in this world because they have a place of value with their parent.
Many parents, both inside and outside of prison, take it for granted that their children know how
special they are to their parent. However, most parents do not communicate this acceptance and love in
a concrete or repetitive manner. This is especially difficult for parents separated by prison or jail walls
and their children are coping with the loss of the parent in their daily lives. The children don’t have the
opportunity to observe the parental love in small, daily ways which those of us on the outside take for
granted. Sometimes, the children are torn between caregivers who may or may not allow collect phone
call from you, or may even forbid them to write letters to their incarcerated parents. However, if your
child’s caregiver permits them to receive your letters, these letters offer a genuine way for a parent
inside to communicate the sought-for message of acceptance, value, worthiness in a way that children
‘hear” the message. The letter is a message that they can read again and again.
Many children have told me they sleep with these letters. Many children have shared these letters
with me, and those that receive them too infrequently will tell me how often they return to the letters for
comfort and soothing of their loss. Letters matter to the children of incarcerated parents.


Here are some suggestions for enhancing the effectiveness of letters from a parent in prison or
jail to a child. First, it is important to focus on the child in the letter, but avoid asking questions that
place the child in an awkward position if the caregiver is also reading the letter. It is best to write words
of encouragement and of value—as unconditional as you can compose – such as:
“I think of you so often and wonder what you are doing, hoping it is interesting or fun.”
“I admire (like, love, appreciate, value) the kind of caring person you are becoming.”
“I have noticed or hear from (your grandmother, father, and foster parent) about how hard you
work at school.”
“ I admire you for the efforts you are putting out. I believe that being willing to work hard is so
important in all that you do.”
Briefly share with your child that you are well, getting along with so-in-so, doing so-in-so, in
whatever brief way you can reassure your child that you are okay. Please avoid telling them your
troubles, health issues, fears, woes, or anxieties, especially for younger children. Also, avoid attempting
to discipline the child through a letter. For example, if someone has told you some negative behavior or
attitude of the child, avoid being the source of negative complaints about their behavior. Because you
are not there, try not attempt to correct behaviors or attitudes with a letter, but do keep the door open for
them to share with you their feelings, fears, offering them a listening ear without judgment. Parents who
are incarcerated cannot discipline effectively long-distance and your frequently re-read letters are not the
place to state a negative opinion of the child, from someone else or from you. You are the encourager,
perhaps the most important encourager in your child’s life during your separation; your role as
disciplinarian will come after you are back.
Here is an excerpt from an actual letter from an incarcerated mother in prison to her daughter:
When you are going through a difficult time, you may wonder if you’re making the right choice.
You may wonder about how things will work out. Make sure the choice you make feels right to
you and that you have prayed about it. I know you for who you are. You are a very strong and a
very intelligent and motivated young lady. And you can and will face the challenges that come to
you, and make the right choices for you. And never forget that you are a very loving and warm
person with a lot to give others, as well as to receive love from others…”
This is the kind of letter that inspires and reassures children. This mother has given her child
some things to think about, ways to be positive about herself, convey unconditional acceptance while
encouraging and nurturing qualities, character skills, mindfulness and encouragement. This letter
represents a few of the things that a child of an incarcerated parent needs from their parent.




- - :-

Ten Tips for Kinship
Caregivers of
Children of
Incarcerated Parents


1. Recognize	
2. Keep	
3. Recognize	
4. Realize	
5. Tell	
6. When	
7. If	
8. Never	
9. Know	
10. Always	


The Annie E. Casey Foundation

701 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
410.547.6624 fax



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