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Children of inmates

These four pocket-sized cards are wonderful tools to remind law enforcement staff about the impacts on a child whose parents are being arrested or incarcerated. Sections of each card explain: child's perception of arrest; what to say; how children might act and how you should respond; and when arrest is a raid or domestic violence (DV) response. There is one card each for: Toddler—Ages 1 to 4; Preschool—Ages 4 to 5; School Age—Ages 6 to 12; and Adolescence—Ages 13 to 18.

How To Explain A Parent's Arrest To A Child Cover

Sesame Workshop's initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, provides much-needed bilingual (English/Spanish) multimedia tools for families with young children (ages 3-8) who have an incarcerated parent. These FREE resources include a resource kit with A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, a Children's Storybook, and a new Sesame Street video; an Incarcerated Parent Tip Sheet; and the Sesame Street: Incarceration mobile app for smart phones and tablets, all of which can be accessed at

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This Listening Session allowed juvenile justice professionals, families, and allies to share their expertise and experiences regarding the mentoring of children of incarcerated parents. “The report summarizes participants' recommendations, ways to reach this unique at-risk population, and evidence-based mentoring practices that can serve the needs and support the strengths of children of incarcerated parents.” Sections following an executive summary include: research and background on children of incarcerated parents and mentoring; supporting high-quality mentoring relationships for children of incarcerated parents—program practices (i.e., mentor and youth recruitment, screening and intake assessment, matching, training, monitoring and support, structure and supports for mentoring activities, family engagement, external partnerships, and closure of mentoring relationships) and organizational infrastructure and capacity; and recommendations for practice and policy.

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The National Institute of Corrections in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance presented “Building Partnerships & Innovative Practices” as part of an ongoing webinar series from the Family Connections Project. The presenters of the webinar discuss their unique partnerships centered on keeping children connected to their incarcerated parents. The webinar stems from the Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails document.

Learning Objectives:

  • Learn about promising practices pertaining to keeping children connected with their incarcerated parents.
  • Gain an understanding of approaches to partnerships correctional administrators and community leaders have taken to successfully implement these practices.
  • Learn of the different types of partnerships that can be formed and the importance of these partnerships.

Originally broadcast: August 23rd, 2021 8am PST / 9am MST /10am CST /11am EST


  • Hilary Cuthrell, (PhD) Correctional Program Specialist, National Institute of Corrections
  • Trina Sexton, Warden York Correctional Institution, Connecticut Department of Correction
  • Nancy Correa, (DrPH), Practice Administrator: Public Health Pediatrics, Texas Children’s Hospital
  • Pajarita Charles (PhD), Assistant Professor, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison

While this publication is a toolkit for caregivers and educators in Idaho, the information it presents is applicable to any state. Contents explain: the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission Children of Incarcerated Guiding Principles; the National Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated; how to use this toolkit; feelings and emotions; 10 Tips for Caregivers and Educators … from Caregivers; most common questions a child might ask at every stage in the criminal justice process; 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member Is Arrested; 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member Goes to Court; 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member Is Convicted; 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member is Sentenced; 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member Goes to Prison; and 10 Questions a Child Might Ask When a Family Member Is on Probation or Parole.

Parents Behind Bars: Children of Incarcerated Family Members: Answers to Children’s Difficult Questions Cover

"Children do not often figure in discussions of incarceration, but new research finds more than five million U.S. children have had at least one parent in prison at one time or another—about three times higher than earlier estimates that included only children with a parent currently incarcerated" (p. 1). This is an excellent report examining the prevalence of incarceration amongst parents and the associated consequences for their children. Sections of this report include: overview; key findings and implications; background; results for who experiences parental incarceration, children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to experience additional adverse events, and what other aspects of child well-being are related to parental incarceration, after accounting for other confounding influences; discussion; and implications. Appendixes include three tables showing children with an incarcerated parent by select measures, measures for children younger than six, and measures for youth ages 6-17; and "Programs Serving Children with Incarcerated Parents" which provides a description of the program, location, and website. "We need effective programs to mitigate the harm associated with having an incarcerated parent. Although in-prison training programs focused on parenting skills are common, few are focused on meeting the needs of children directly during the time parents are in prison" (p. 9).

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“Today, the parents of 1 in every 50 children in the United States are in prison. 1 Over half of those parents are serving time for non-violent offenses.2 The gains in public safety benefits stemming from incarcerating a record number of parents are dubious, but the potential adverse consequences for children are clear. More than 40 percent of parents in prison lived with their children before they were sent to prison and half were the main source of financial support for their children.3 Sending parents to prison contributes to single-parent households, damages family ties, and exacerbates chronic childhood poverty” (p. 1).

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Nearly three million children under the age of 18 have a parent in jail or prison, and millions more have experienced their parents being arrested. Due to their parent’s criminal justice involvement, a growing body of research indicates that these children often experience trauma, family disruption, and the loss of their primary caregiver, which can lead to financial hardship, residential instability, and an array of emotional and behavioral problems.

In response, several community-based organizations and government agencies across the country have implemented programs and practices aimed at reducing this trauma and mitigating the potentially harmful outcomes associated with parental criminal justice involvement. The Urban Institute and the National Institute of Corrections hosted a live webinar highlighting these promising and innovative programs and practices.

This webinar is four sessions:

  1. Parental Arrest Protocols—"Focuses on protocols that police departments can use to manage the arrest of a parent to minimize the trauma and harm to their children";
  2. Family Impact Statements—"Focuses on how probation departments can use family impact statements in their presentence investigation reports to account for the needs of family and children";
  3. Family-Focused Jail Services—"Focuses on a few family-focused programs and services that jail administrators can offer to parents in their jails to help them stay connected to their family and children";
  4. and Successful Collaboration—"Provides information on how to collaboratively think about and address the many issues facing children of incarcerated parents, using a diverse group of interested stakeholders".

Presentation slides for these sessions are provided. Access is also provided to four publications that complement the webinar sessions and aim to guide criminal justice organizations and stakeholders in developing and implementing promising practices for children of justice-involved parents. The products include three toolkits on parental arrest policies, family-focused jail programs, and family impact statements, as well as a framework document that synthesizes what we have learned about promising practices and provides information about the context surrounding children and their families.

The products provide key challenges and recommendations for the field and help organizations and stakeholders

  1. understand the importance, scope, and effect of the issues facing children of justice-involved parents;
  2. learn how to talk about these issues with their constituencies; and
  3. appreciate how changes in practice can make meaningful differences by strengthening the relationship between children and their parents and reducing the trauma children experience when their parents are arrested, detained, and sentenced.
Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents: Arrest through Pre-Adjudication [Webinar] cover

“More and more transgender parents are fighting to protect their relationships with their children in the face of custody challenges. Yet they face significant obstacles. Parents who have come out or transitioned after having a child with a spouse or partner have seen their gender transition raised as a basis to deny or restrict child custody or visitation. Transgender people who formed families after coming out or transitioning have faced challenges to their legal status as parents, often based on attacks on the validity of their marriages … The purpose of this guide is to provide information to transgender parents and their attorneys to help them protect parent-child relationships and assist them when faced with disputes over child custody issues” (p. 5). Sections of this report address: protecting against challenges to the parental fitness of transgender parents—overview of the case law, recommendations for parents prior to transitioning or coming out to their families, and advocacy suggestions for parents and their lawyers if faced with custody dispute; protecting against challenges to the legal parental status of transgender parents—the legal landscape, recommendations for parents to secure their status as legal parents, and advocacy suggestions for parents and their lawyers if faced with a challenge to legal parentage; and who to contact if facing a problem. Appendixes provide: an overview of case law regarding transgender parents; and sample expert testimony related to transgender issues.

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"Law enforcement agencies will find the information contained in this document highly instructive as they seek to enhance their policies and procedures and gain understanding about the trauma children experience when law enforcement carries out its investigative and arrest responsibilities." This publication is made up of two parts. "Concepts and Issues Paper": introduction; definitions; the number of children affected; legal responsibilities of law enforcement for children of arrested parents; and policy and procedures—overarching policy, interagency coordination and training, per-arrest planning, making an arrest, appropriate placement of a child, booking, follow-up visits, and documentation. "Model Policy": policy; purpose; definitions; and procedures.

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