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Children of Incarcerated Parents Bear the Brunt

A recently published report says the number of children of incarcerated parents in Allegheny County is on the rise, and the effects of their parents' incarceration affects the children adversely.

Nearly ten years ago, The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation did a survey in Allegheny County. They found there were 7,000 children with one or both parents in jail. Today, the numbers are up to 8,500, according to the report released today, but the effects on the children are the same and can include depression, anger, and substance abuse.

The Foundation, along with several dozen other Pennsylvania organizations, spent two years participating in a survey looking at the effects of parental incarceration on children. They found that the experience can result in adverse mental health effects on both the parent and child.

The results of the survey and a list of recommendations were released in a report issued by the Joint State Government Commission.

Claire Walker, Executive Director of The Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation, who surveyed the incarcerated parents, says the research dispelled many myths about what she calls "invisible children in the community." The majority of them don't go into foster care — they are absorbed into their extended families.

"These children are bearing the brunt of something that is not their creation, but will impact them the rest of their lives," she said.

According to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, there are 85,000 people incarcerated in Pennsylvania's state and county correctional facilities. 90 percent will be released back into the community at some point.

Recommendations based on the report are that criminal justice agency professionals should understand, empathize, and respond appropriately to children who are being arrested, establish a protocol for situations involving the arrest of a parent of a minor, to recognize that parents in the legal system often have childcare responsibilities, to provide agency policies and procedures, and to have caregiver and support services in place.