Source: CVDaily Feed

SALT LAKE CITY – In Utah and around the nation, having a parent in prison is more common than childhood autism.

That detail was included in a briefing on Capitol Hill this week where a report was released that shares experiences and challenges for children whose mothers are in prison.

Beth Poffenberger Lovell is the director of Family Strengthening at Volunteers of America, which coordinates programs to help those she calls innocent bystanders.

“There’s so much shame and stigma attached to being a child who has a parent that’s incarcerated, that we as the grown-ups need to be aware,” she says.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates 1.75 million children younger than age 18 currently have a parent in prison.

Millions more have been affected at some point in their lives, and most are children from low-income families of color.

When a father is incarcerated, the child’s mother usually is the primary caregiver, but the report shows that when the mother is in prison, the care-giving situation can become more complicated, with extended family stepping in.

Lovell says these people are often invisible, yet they and the children need all kinds of help – such as mental health counseling and, sometimes, child care.

“Grandparents who need somebody by their side to help connect with the school system,” she adds. “That’s really important, as well as connecting with any other services that might be available to them – if they need food, if they need clothing.”

Recommendations in the report include providing safe environments so children can visit incarcerated parents more often – and in areas that don’t look like prisons.

Volunteers of America runs several pilot programs around the country where the volunteers coach incarcerated parents and offer coaching and assistance to those caring for the children.