Children who have at least one parent behind bars face many challenges that their friends and classmates do not. Studies indicate that they are more likely to have attention deficit disorder, behavioral problems, or developmental delay. Those with a mother in prison graduate from college at only a 1-2 percent rate—a percentage that improves to 13-25 percent when the incarcerated parent is the father. They have shown a higher propensity toward obesity, anxiety, depression, and asthma than children without a parent in prison. Perhaps most disturbingly, they have a much greater chance of ending up in prison themselves.
Statistics like these underscore the challenge educators face when working with students who have an incarcerated parent. And the challenge becomes even bigger in schools where a large percentage of the student population identifies as part of such a family.
The San Fransisco Unified School District is acknowledging the issue, and has recently proposed a complete reassessment of its curricula in an attempt to better serve those students with a mom or dad behind bars.
“This is a very large group of students,” says Matt Haney, president of the board of education. “Much larger than most people would expect.”
The proposal, which would have “a very minimal budget impact,” according to Haney, would include possible changes to the curriculum to feature more children who have a parent in prison. (The Sesame Street resource, “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” was cited as a potential resource.) Other proposed improvements include additional training for school counselors, social workers, and other school staff; the availability of additional resources to faculty; and the assignment of a case manager to serve as a liaison between incarcerated parents and their children.
Prison Fellowship works to restore families separated by incarceration through our Angel Tree program. By reaching out to the children of prisoners at Christmastime, as well as through mentoring and summer camping programs, Angel Tree seeks to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of families of prisoners. To learn more about Angel Tree, and how you can get involved, visit www.angeltree.org.