A Point of View from the Children of Imprisoned Mothers

by Trinity Jimenez

Incarceration does not merely affect the individual who has been imprisoned; it also has a significant effect on their family – particularly if they are a parent. This blog post will look at role that the incarceration of a parent plays on their children, before and after release.

While it may be assumed that the release of an imprisoned parent has positive effects, it is not necessarily true.  Factoring the age of the child before imprisonment also plays a role.  For example, if a child was forced to act as an adult and assume a larger responsibility during the incarceration, he or she may harbor resentment making it difficult to exhibit positive feelings towards the newly released parent.  Another example of a negative response would be if a child was born during his/her parent’s imprisonment he/she might find attention from a presumed stranger unwelcome.  This reaction from the child may trigger unpleasant feelings within the parent causing hard feelings.  On the other hand, a child may have been afforded the opportunity to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with his/her mother during the prison sentence and her return home is a dream-come-true.  Although the reactions are totally opposite, they are possible depending on the parent-child relationship.  While all steps are important, it is vital that the emotional state of the children be considered especially during the prison sentence as they are the ones who are most affected by their parent’s absence.  This stage of the prison term is typically worse because the child’s reaction “may include sadness, anger, worry and a sense of loss” (Robertson, 2007).  The impact of the incarceration is generally profound and no matter what stage of the incarceration the interest of the child should always be considered.

Before imprisonment, both the boys and girls reported that they had a decent relationship with their mothers.  During imprisonment, the girls were the most affected by her absence.  These feelings were caused due to the separation from their mother.  One of the girls reported a series of bed-wetting and she reflected on being reprimanded for it.  The other two girls who were sisters ended up in foster care after the death of their grandmother and they were the most affected.  One of those sisters was in and out of foster homes until she was eighteen years old and is still deeply affected by the turn of events in her life.  The other sister was lucky enough to reunite with her family by moving in with an aunt.  Fortunately, the aunt was financially stable and the girl was well taken care of.

On the other hand, the boys were also affected after the imprisonment.  The first young man was two years old when his mother was incarcerated and he was six years old when she returned.  Two of the young men are twins and they were ten when their mom was incarcerated and fourteen when she returned home.  The last young man was eleven when his mother went to jail and he was also fourteen when his mother returned home.  Although the boys were of different ages when their mothers were imprisoned, they bonded with the women who replaced them, which was the opposite situation for the girls.  The boys also reported that the bond with their temp-mother made it difficult to accept the person who returned home to be their birth mothers.

As a result of the interviews, every child stated that they learned how they were affected by the imprisonment of their mothers.  They are now aware of what has been plaguing their lives for many years and some plan to reach out for some counseling for extended help.

The findings in this research project proved the theory that the children of the imprisoned mothers lacked support from public systems.  Two of the children placed in public foster care received treatment from those foster parents that made their lives difficult.  The rest of the children were placed with family members and agreed that, although they felt like outsiders compared to the resident children in the home, it was nothing compared to the treatment of those who lived within the foster care system.

To further enhance the relationships of the parents and children after incarceration, there should be programs that include children up to the age of 18, to support them during their parent’s incarceration and after their return home from prison.  This may enable a financially unstable parent to care for her child while receiving the appropriate help for herself.  This can also reduce the amount of time the parent is away from the child if they are able to reunite in a government-funded program.

Each of the sources used proposed and implemented different ways to deal with women who have been imprisoned and/or on drugs. These programs also place heavy emphasis on the rehabilitation of the parent, however they have neglected to evaluate and consider the effect of the parents’ drug use on the children.  I think it is equally as important to evaluate the children of the imprisoned parents to ensure that they aren’t modeling their parent’s behavior.  With programs for both the parents and the children will lessen the number of children who are following in their mothers’ foot-steps.  The children who have been in a program will certainly have a stronger foundation that will allow them to make better decisions for their futures.

Information provided by:  http://www.ejournalncrp.org/mothers-in-prison-effects-upon-the-children/


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