FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 9, 2006
PCGF Releases Second “Report to the Community” Identifying Recent Steps Taken to Support Children of Prisoners
Task groups mobilize to take action to support 15% of children living in Allegheny County
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF) today released its second “Report to the Community” to summarize progress in its six-year initiative to mobilize community support for children of prisoners – a population representing 15 percent of children living in Allegheny County.
“Most of the 35,000 adults arrested in Allegheny County last year are parents. And so are most of the 20,000 men and women who went to Jail,” according to Jane Burger, president of the PCGF Board of Directors. “Behind these astounding statistics are the faces of many thousand children who are left behind. I am deeply grateful to all who care for and about these children.”
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.
PCGF conducted a two-year study – “Children of Incarcerated Parents” – as the initial phase of its current initiative (2003 – 2008) to mobilize community support for children of prisoners. Research methods included surveying prisoners, conducting focus groups with children and caregivers, interviewing professionals, and reviewing current research.
“Children of prisoners often remain ‘invisible’ and therefore their needs go unmet,” according to PCGF Executive Director Claire Walker. “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.
”The 2006 “Report to the Community” was released today at a press conference held outside the Allegheny County Jail in conjunction with a celebration to mark the start of construction of a “Family Activity Center” in the Jail’s lobby.
The report describes two major achievements of the past year:
- Design of a “Family Activity Center” at the Allegheny County Jail
- Hiring of a Systems Advocate for Children & Families of Prisoners
The Family Activity Center, scheduled to open in October, will provide a “comfort zone” to reduce children’s stress as they wait to visit loved ones. The Family Activity Center will offer children healthy snacks and an opportunity to interact with their caregivers in a craft area, video nook, and book corner. Mock visiting books will help children prepare for visits by role playing in the lobby.
“Our unique initiative – a model program that I sincerely expect many of my peers throughout the nation to implement in the years ahead – has allowed more than 100 individuals and organizations to unite to work toward a very important common goal,” said Warden Ramon Rustin. “It will serve as a comfortable setting for children to wait to visit their incarcerated parents – and equally important, it will encourage children to spend quality time interacting with their caregivers while they wait.
”Full-time employees and trained volunteers at a resource center will offer family members information about services and resources important for children’s well-being.
The second major accomplishment is the hiring of a Systems Advocate for Children & Families of Prisoners. In July 2006, with funding from PCGF, a Systems Advocate was hired as County government’s first “point person” for children and families of prisoners. The Systems Advocate will work with the Jail Collaborative (Allegheny County departments of Human Services, Health, and Bureau of Corrections) to increase awareness of children of prisoners in all people working in the child welfare and criminal justice systems.
Since the release of PCGF’s study “Children of Incarcerated Parents,” numerous agencies and individuals have partnered with the Foundation to address other significant findings.
Examples of projects just starting up include:
ADDRESS ISSUES AT TIME OF ARREST – In July 2006 Judge Kim Clark convened members of the law enforcement, child welfare, health, and judicial communities and charged them with developing protocols for the County’s 118 local police departments, training for officers, and mobilizing community resources to assist children, parents, and police officers at the time of arrest.
IMPROVE VISITING CONDITIONS AT JAIL – Warden Ramon Rustin, aided by a task group, is developing a parenting program for Jail residents that will include contact visits and “coaching” for both parents and children.
STRENGTHEN SUPPORTS FOR RELATIVES – A task group of family members, service providers, members of faith communities, and child health and welfare specialists will design resources to assist family members who receive little support to meet the added financial and emotional stresses they face
DEVELOP DATA INFORMATION SYSTEM – The new Systems Advocate will assist child-serving and offender-rehabilitation agencies with designing and implementing information systems that will provide data and protect the privacy of children, parents, and family members.
TRAIN AGENCY PERSONNEL – A task group will identify, adapt, and implement training for professionals in child welfare, criminal justice, children’s services, schools, and child care to increase awareness of the significant impact parental incarceration has on children.
DEVELOP RESOURCES FOR ADULTS – A task group of parents, caregivers, child development specialists, and librarians will gather existing books and videos for children and caregivers to encourage adults to talk to children about their parents’ incarceration.
STRENGTHEN SUPPORTS FOR CHILDREN OF PRISONERS – Currently almost 200 children of prisoners are mentored by people of faith through the Amachi Pittsburgh program. Building on this base, a task group will explore the need for additional resources, such as support groups, counseling, and outings for children of prisoners in Allegheny County.
For information on joining this initiative, contact PCGF at 412-434-1665. To volunteer at the Family Activity Center, contact Gwen Elliott at 412-731-7670, ext. 23.
The 2006 “Report to the Community” along with the complete report – “Children of Incarcerated Parents” – 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 email@example.com.
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.