Children of Incarcerated Parents

Resources from the T/TA Network & Children’s Bureau



Webinars and Webcasts

  • Working with Incarcerated Parents and their Children to Achieve Positive Outcomes
    This free peer-to-peer webinar was organized by the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections for the National Association of State Foster Care Managers. The webinar featured presentations from Iowa and New York, which addressed child welfare system collaborations with Departments of Corrections (DOCs). Iowa presented information about engaging incarcerated parents at the state level and at the local level through the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility Project. Iowa discussed issues of training, barriers, and lessons learned regarding the local pilot child welfare system-DOC collaboration, as well as the State-level DHS-DOC collaboration undertaken as part of Iowa’s Program Improvement Plan implementation. New York, in partnership with The Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, presented on achieving permanency and well-being for children of incarcerated parents. New York presenters discussed the importance of visiting and maintaining relationships to achieving permanency and well-being for children/youth in foster care with incarcerated parents, and shared information about televisiting as one strategy for maintaining connections, as well as the role of kinship caregivers and foster parents as critical partners. The NY presentation provided information about Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) collaboration with the NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, as well as NY Chapter 113 of the laws of 2010, which highlights discretion when considering termination of parental rights and other issues related to incarcerated parents and parents in residential substance abuse treatment with children in foster care. The webinar closed with a question and answer/discussion period. (June 4, 2013)

Resources from Collaborating Organizations

Evidence-Based Practice, Research, and Reports

  • Children in Harm’s Way: Criminal Justice, Immigration Enforcement, and Child Welfare
    The articles in this collection provide a multifaceted look at some of the problems that potentially arise for children when the criminal justice, immigration enforcement, and child welfare systems converge in their parents’ life. They provide information and offer insights reflecting diverse perspectives and experiences and lay out a range of policy and practice reform recommendations. This resource was jointly published by The Sentencing Project and First Focus. (2013)
  • Child Welfare: More Information and Collaboration Could Promote Ties Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated Parents
    Federal law sets timelines for states’ decisions about placing foster care children in permanent homes, and, in some cases, for filing to terminate parental rights. Some policymakers have questioned the reasonableness of these timelines for children of incarcerated parents and expressed interest in how states work with these families. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to examine: (1) the number of foster care children with incarcerated parents, (2) strategies used by child welfare and corrections agencies in selected states that may support contact or reunification, and (3) how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have helped these agencies support affected children and families. GAO analyzed national data, reviewed federal policies, interviewed state child welfare and corrections officials in 10 selected states that contain almost half of the nation’s prison and foster care populations, and visited local child welfare agencies and prisons. On the GAO website, you can access the Highlights Page, Full Report, and Recommendations. (September 2011)
  • Strengthening the Couple and Family Relationships of Fathers Behind Bars: The Promise and Perils of Corrections-Based Programming
    The National Evaluation of the Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage, and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Re-Entering Fathers and their Partners research brief (ASPE/DHHS) describes the work of Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage, and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Re-Entering Fathers and Their Partners (MFS-IP) grantees in delivering programming in correctional facilities. The brief documents challenges faced by grantees, including logistical barriers, recruitment problems, and challenges retaining incarcerated fathers in programming. (2009)
  • Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives
    This first-ever national report on prison nursery programs examines the expansion of such programs across the U.S. These programs allow incarcerated women to keep their newborns with them in prison for a finite period of time. The report, which is by the Women’s Prison Association, also looks at community-based residential parenting programs, which allow women to serve criminal justice sentences with their infants in a non-prison setting. The report finds that the number of prison-based nursery programs is growing, but such programs are still relatively rare. Though every state has seen a dramatic rise in its women's prison population over the past three decades, only nine states have prison nursery programs in operation or under development. Of the nine prison nursery programs existing or in development, four were created within the last five years. (May 2009)
  • Merging Local Data to Explore the Experiences and Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents
    The Urban Institute partnered with organizations in Chicago, Illinois; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Providence, Rhode Island to merge local and state level criminal justice and human services data to learn about children of incarcerated parents in their localities. This report presents findings from the three sites and a discussion of the possibilities and difficulties involved in merging and analyzing administrative data on this population. (2008)
  • Children and Families With Incarcerated Parents: Exploring Development in the Field and Opportunities for Growth
    Children and families with incarcerated parents not only face the trauma of loss, but also a range of economic and social conditions that result from incarceration. Concerned about the vulnerability of this population, the Annie E. Casey Foundation began an exploration of the nature and scope of this issue and the gaps that need to be filled. This report provides a summary of the Foundation's findings, a listing of the Foundation's recent investments in this area, and synthesizes the learnings into potential opportunities for the field at large. (January 2008)
  • You Mean they Have Children? A Multi-State Effort to Improve Policies and Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents
    The Open Society Institute Bill of Rights Technical Assistance Fellowship Project (September 2006-March 2008). This document offers an overview of the project to pursue the initiation of policies and practices that promote the principles described in the San Francisco Partnership for Children of the Incarcerated’ Bill of rights, which involved the establishment of an ongoing National Advocacy Partnership for the Bill of Rights, with multi-state teams devoted to Policy, Practices, Research, and Resource Development.
  • Hard Data on Hard Times: An Empirical Analysis of Maternal Incarceration, Foster Care, and Visitation
    The rising incarceration rates among women have raised concerns in many quarters, including child welfare. This report shows, for the first time, how many children in foster care have mothers in jail or prison. While Vera Institute researchers found that only a small percentage of the mothers of children in care are incarcerated for 30 days or more, the number of affected children is significant enough to justify programs that allow them to visit their mothers in jail or prison. The report also supports earlier research showing that the majority of women were incarcerated after their children were placed in care. (2004)


  • When a Parent Is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers
    The goal of this publication is to provide relevant and practical information for public child welfare agencies and social workers when working with incarcerated parents and their children, including a chapter on immigration. This primer also outlines the many compelling reasons why child welfare agencies should develop programs and policies specifically to address the needs of this subset of children in the child welfare system. This publication was authored by Yali Lincroft and Ken Borelli and is available through The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2011)
  • Virtual Visitation and Child Welfare
    This article explores the use of technology in rural areas to facilitate visits between separated parents and children, and the possibilities for child welfare agencies. It specifically describes the use of virtual visiting to maintain contact between prisoners, their children, and families. It was published in a special issue of CW360° on Child Welfare and Technology (beginning on p. 19). (2011)
  • Broken Bonds: Rise June 2010 Web Exclusive
    In this web exclusive from Rise Magazine, Delia Hernandez writes about her experiences being separated from her children due to incarceration, visiting with her children, and learning that her children haven’t had the opportunity to visit one another, as well as the steps she is taking to try to change the situation. Rise Magazine is written by and for parents involved in the child welfare system. Its mission is to help parents advocate for themselves and their children. (2010)
  • Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers
    This action plan reviews both federal and state barriers to identifying and serving children of incarcerated parents, and offers policy recommendations for the U.S. Congress and the Administration. The action plan is designed to help federal leaders improve policies for children of incarcerated parents, but also includes recommendations of value to states and local governments that can facilitate and complement federal initiatives and result in better responses to this population. (2009)
  • CW 360°: Children of Incarcerated Parents
    This issue of CW360° seeks to understand the experiences and outcomes of children of incarcerated parents and their families as they receive services in the child welfare system. It presents information on system and community responses to these families; strategies to engage and help these families; and resources to support child welfare workers’ efforts in addressing the challenges associated with cases involving children of incarcerated parents and their families. CW360°  is a publication of the University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare. (Spring 2008)
  • Eight Promising Practices in Programs for Fathers in the Criminal Justice System
    Between 1991 and 1999, the percentage of children with an incarcerated father increased by 58 percent. There is more interest in developing programs that specifically address the needs of fathers in the criminal justice system. A National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse brief authored by Child Trends, "What Works" in Programs Serving Fathers Involved in the Criminal Justice System? Lessons from Evidence-Based Evaluations, identifies eight common features of "model" programs for fathers involved in the criminal justice system. (2008)
  • Parental Incarceration: How to Avoid a "Death Sentence" for Families
    This article from the Center for Law and Social Policy highlights a number of promising services and supports for incarcerated parents and recommends what attorneys representing or working with incarcerated parents and their children can do to minimize harm to children. (2007)
  • Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights
    The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents has created a Bill of Rights for children of incarcerated parents. The document includes specific strategies that the child welfare system can take to improve outcomes for children who enter foster care or kinship care or are adopted when their parents are incarcerated.
  • Every Door Closed: Barriers Facing Parents with Criminal Records
    Each year, approximately 400,000 mothers and fathers finish serving prison or jail sentences and return home eager to rebuild their families and their lives. As these parents struggle to make a fresh start, they encounter many legal barriers that will make it very difficult for them to successfully care for their children, find work, get safe housing, go to school, access public benefits, or even, for immigrants, stay in the same country as their children. These eight two-page fact sheets detail the scope of the challenges these families face and offer solutions for federal, state, and local policymakers. (2002)
  • Working with Children with Parents in Prison
    This issue of Children's Services Practice Notes from the North Carolina Division of Social Services and the Family and Children's Resource Program, Jordan Institute for Families and the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, contains a number of articles on this subject as well as links to other resources. (2002)
  • Prisoners as Parents: Building Parenting Skills on the Inside
    This handbook provides a guide to incarcerated parents, prison administrators and staff members, and child development and parent education professionals interested in developing and running parenting education and support programs for incarcerated parents. It also discusses the impact of incarceration on all family members, and the importance of considering that impact when establishing prison policies, developing priorities for funding, and delivering services to prisoners and their families. (1993)


  • Getting Reacquainted with a Parent
    This video column by Mabeka Lavan, available on the Lives in Focus: Family Life Behind Bars website, focuses on the issue of reunification. The webpage explains: “Getting reacquainted with a parent can be daunting at any age. Add the pressure and stigma of a reunion post incarceration, and the effects can be overwhelming and particularly stressful. These tips can hopefully start someone facing this situation on the path to a healthy relationship.” (2010)

Training Curricula

  • Engaging Incarcerated Parents
    This online curriculum is available from the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. The learning objectives of this training are that participants will be able to: Explain how incarceration impacts their role in working with children and families; Describe the impact of incarceration on the incarcerated parent, children and families, and communities; Identify potential outcomes when the incarcerated parent maintains contact with their children; List common barriers encountered by the incarcerated parent and his/her family; and Identify and utilize resources available to achieve desired child welfare outcomes. All training materials are available online. (2009)


  • Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration Toolkit by Sesame Street
    The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. Sesame Street is tackling the topic of parental incarceration with this new toolkit. This toolkit package, which consists of stories, tips, and activities for caregivers and kids, is designed to act as an educational outreach initiative for families with children (ages 3 – 8) who are coping with a parent’s incarceration. (2013)

Resources from the States

  • California:
    • Resources from the California Research Bureau:
      • Keeping Children Safe When Their Parents are Arrested: Local Approaches that Work
        This resource includes the following sections: Executive Summary; Introduction; Why Considering Children when Parents are Arrested is Important; Law Enforcement and Child Welfare Responsibilities for Children at the Time of Parental Arrest; Formulating an Effective Response: A Checklist for Local Agencies; Joint Protocols for Keeping Children Safe when Parents are Arrested; A Broader Vision of Keeping Children Safe: The New Haven Child Development-Community Policing Program; Conclusion; Appendices; and, Resources. Appendices to the report provide sample protocols, memorandums of understanding, and tools for developing a local approach that takes into account the specific circumstances of a particular jurisdiction. (2007)
      • Children of Arrested Parents: Strategies to Improve Their Safety and Well-Being
        This report examines, from a practice and policy perspective, issues pertinent to the safety and well-being of minor children affected by the arrest of a custodial parent. The report focuses especially on families where either the sole or both custodial parents have been arrested, and there is no evidence of child abuse, neglect or abandonment. (2003)
      • In Danger of Falling Through the Cracks: Children of Arrested Parents
        This report includes the following sections: Executive Summary; Background; Findings of the CRB Law Enforcement Survey; Findings of the CRB Child Welfare Survey; Community-Based Organizations Involved with Children of Arrested or Incarcerated Parents; Options; and, Appendices. (2002)
    • Out of the Shadows: What Child Welfare Workers Can Do to Help Children and their Incarcerated Parents
      This issue of the Reaching Out newsletter from the Northern California Training Academy is dedicated to providing information to help child welfare workers better understand and address the mandated responsibilities to families in which children are in foster care and a parent is incarcerated. Children have the right to regular contact with their incarcerated parents, and incarcerated parents have the right to continue to parent their children, yet accommodating these rights can be a real challenge for child welfare workers and foster parents. (2008)
    • Incarcerated Parents Manual: Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities
      This booklet is designed to answer many of the legal and practical questions that incarcerated parents have about custody of their children, both during and after the time they are in prison or jail. This resource was produced and distributed by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Prisoner Legal Services. Note: It is not intended to replace the services of a lawyer. The booklet is based on California law as of March 2007. Laws are different in other states, but many of the suggestions may be useful.
    • Arresting Adults with Minor or Dependent Children: A Protocol for Law Enforcement Personnel
      The potential of harm to a child when his or her parent is arrested has been well documented. In an effort to ensure child safety upon the arrest, the New Mexico Legislature enacted House Bill 271 in 2007. This draft protocol provides a series of steps and recommendations for law enforcement personnel to comply with the requirements of HB 271 and to ensure the safety of children whose parents or guardians are arrested. The goal of responding officers shall be to minimize the disruption to children by providing the most supportive environment after an arrest, to minimize unnecessary trauma to the children of arrestees and to determine the best alternative care for the children. (2007)
    • Children of Jailed and Incarcerated Parents: Leaving No Child Unattended
      On May 9, 2006, Governor Bill Richardson signed Executive Order 2006-022, establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Welfare of Children of Jailed and Incarcerated Parents. The Commission was charged with investigating arrest protocols, visitation practices within detention facilities, and existing resources for children and caregivers in the State of New Mexico. This Report to Governor Bill Richardson from the Commission includes an Executive Summary; Introduction; Recommendations; Promising Practices; and, Appendices. (2006)
    • Planning for Your Children
      A resource to help parents plan for their children while the parent is in jail or prison. (Revised May 2005)
    • Minimum Standards for Children of Arrested Parents Programs
      Children of arrested parents (CAP) programs are established to improve the outcomes for children whose parents have been arrested or incarcerated. This document addresses: Program Design; Needs of Children; Program Outcomes; Schedule of Program Activities; Parenting Curriculum; Client Recruitment and Enrollment; CAP Staff; and, Program Records and Evaluation.
  • Oklahoma: Children of Incarcerated Parents Task Force
    This report from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth provides findings and recommendations from a survey developed to assess the number of children with an incarcerated father in Oklahoma. (2012)
  • Oregon: Children of Incarcerated Prisoners Project
    The Oregon Department of Corrections aims to improve the outcomes for children who are elevated risk for being incarcerated themselves. The website includes a guide for caregivers titled "How to Explain Jails and Prisons to Children."
  • Pennsylvania:
    • The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services
      In Pennsylvania in 2009, House Resolution 203 and Senate Resolution 52 directed the Joint State Government Commission to establish an advisory committee to: study the effects of parental incarceration on children; recommend a system for determining and assessing the needs of children of incarcerated parents, services available to them, and barriers to accessing those services; and, report recommendations to the House and Senate. In accordance with HR 203 and SR 52, this report focuses on measures aimed at ameliorative intervention, mitigating the negative impacts of parental incarceration on children, and assisting children with incarcerated parents in becoming healthy, productive, and responsible adults. (December 2011)

  • Keeping Children Safe When Parents are Arrested: Methods for Allegheny County Police Officers
    Report to Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, Authored by the Arrest Protocol Committee. The Committee convened to provide recommendations for Allegheny County Police departments in an effort to minimize trauma to children whose parent has been arrested, to facilitate the process of finding a safe and appropriate caregiver, and provide linkages to resources which help parents, children, and families. (2008)
  • Virginia: Children of Incarcerated Parents – Commission on Youth Document
    The Commission on Youth elected to undertake a follow-up study to its 1993 “Study of the Needs of Children Whose Parents are Incarcerated” as one of its legislative initiatives for the 2002 study year. This report includes the following sections: Authority for Study; Members; Executive Summary; Background; Findings; Programming for Children of Incarcerated Parents; Caregivers and Parents; Policy Issues; Conclusion; Acknowledgments. (2002)
    • A Behavioral Health Toolkit for Providers Working with Children of the Incarcerated and their Families
      Current research suggests that children and youth of incarcerated parents often experience trauma that may have long-term effects on their mental health and may put them at risk for experiencing other traumas, such as child maltreatment. Accordingly, to promote understanding among social service practitioners, the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR) within the State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Health and Recovery Services Administration, teamed with DSHS' Office of Planning, Performance and Accountability to create an online toolkit, which includes tools for professionals, information for youth and caregivers, and research on interventions. This web-based training toolkit provides practitioners with the skills required to respond to the needs of children of parents who are in prison or have an incarceration history. (December 2009)
    • Children and Families of Incarcerated Parents: Understanding the Challenges and Addressing the Needs
      This report summarizes the policies and services in each Department of Social and Health Services administration that impact children and families of the incarcerated, analyzes the strengths and challenges of those policies and services, gives preliminary recommendations from the administrations and CFIP workgroup, and additional recommendations based on identified needs and available research. (2008)


  • Children of Incarcerated Parents Webpage and Resources
    This webpage from highlights the topic of children of incarcerated parents.  It provides a variety of resources on this topic, including feature articles, publications, information on T/TA Network resource centers, tools and guides, and websites.

  • National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated
    Building on the work of The Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners which was funded by the National Institute of Corrections from 2001 to 2006 and hosted by the Child Welfare League of America, The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated (NRCCFI) at FCN will continue to gather and disseminate information and link people with others that are living with or working on the impact of incarceration on children and families.

  • Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents
    CCIP developed its research, publications and services in the areas of: education, family reunification, therapeutic services, and information.


Last updated 10/7/13