FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 15, 2005
PCGF Releases Report Identifying Impact of Separation on Children of Prisoners Needs of 15% of children living in Allegheny County often unmet because population remains “invisible”
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF) today released its first report to the community identifying the losses experienced by children of prisoners – a population representing 15 percent of children living in Allegheny County.
“Our primary task is to raise community awareness of the impact of parents’ incarceration on children,” according to Jane Burger, president of the PCGF Board of Directors. “Only then can we encourage changes to support children as they cope with loss. This is a very important task because we are talking about a very large number of children, and the costs of not doing it affects every segment of our society.”
Nationally, more than 2 million children currently are separated from their incarcerated parents. In Allegheny County, 7,000 children are separated from parents, while an additional 35,000 children have shared this experience during their childhoods.
“Far too often these children fall through the cracks of the social service and criminal justice systems,” said PCGF Executive Director Claire Walker. “Children of prisoners often remain ‘invisible’ and therefore their needs go unmet. They may not see their parents for long periods of time. Their grief is very real, and sometime it is overlooked. Family members provide most of the caregiving when parents are in prison, and they often have very little support in this overwhelming task.”
PCGF conducted a two-year study – “Children of Incarcerated Parents” – as the initial phase of it six-year initiative (2003 – 2008) to mobilize community support for children of prisoners.
Research methods included surveying prisoners, conducting focus groups, interviewing professionals and reviewing current research.
The report summary released at a press conference today focused on several concerns critical for children’s healthy development:
- children of prisoners are “invisible” and their needs and wishes not considered
- extended families bear the burden of caring for children of prisoners alone
- children are sometimes told fictitious stories and fear the worst
- children grieve and their grief may be misinterpreted or overlooked
- children lose contact with their parents
“Children are often unable to visit their incarcerated parents, despite much research that indicates that both parents and children benefit from frequent visits,” according to Ramon Rustin, Warden of the Allegheny County Bureau of Corrections. “When they do visit the Allegheny County Jail, children must view their parents through a thick glass window and talk to them by telephone. It becomes a very stressful situation for adults and children alike, and during this time residents are unable to physically comfort their children.”
More than 15 years ago, Deborah Rock served time in the State prison system and a brief period at the Allegheny County Jail for non-violent crimes. Currently Rock works as a social justice advocate and often speaks about the important role support services played in the life of her daughter, who is now a young adult.
“My daughter today is a very responsible individual and I am very proud of her,” Rock said at the press conference. “I can tell you that intervention with children is very vital for their well being. We need to make sure that our communities are aware that we need to ensure that quality programs are available for all those who seek help.”
While most children do well in situations resulting from their parents’ incarceration, past studies indicate that children of incarcerated parents are more likely than their peers to do poorly in school; suffer emotional distress and be referred for psychiatric counseling; develop substance use disorders; and commit multiple serious delinquent acts.
According to Burger, by identifying and communicating the losses experienced by this dramatically increasing population of children, the Foundation hopes to end their “invisibility” and turn community attention to meeting their needs. Numerous agencies have partnered with PCGF and are focusing on addressing the needs listed as the report’s findings.
“My years of experience have made me well aware that children of prisoners remain invisible for the most part,” said Gwen Elliott, a former police commander who is the founder and CEO of Gwen’s Girls. “It’s time that we all, as service providers, examine the situation and create special programs to provide emotional support to this growing population of children.”
As part of the next phase of the six-year initiative, PCGF is creating a task force as well as launching a public awareness campaign. The Allegheny County Children of Prisoners Task Force will convene in April.
The complete report – “Children of Incarcerated Parents” – along with an eight-page digest, is posted on the PCGF Web site at www.PittsburghChildGuidanceFoundation.org. The report is also available by calling PCGF at (412) 434-1665 or e-mailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation is devoted solely to promoting the mental health and optimal development of children from birth through age 12 who reside in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Established in 1982, the Foundation is the successor to the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Center, which conducted research, training, and direct psychiatric services for children for more than a half century.