Children with incarcerated mothers are often referred to as “hidden victims,” and are among the most at-risk population in the United States, a study reports.
“Children with incarcerated mothers are at heightened risk for attachment disturbance, leading to depression, anxiety, and other trauma-related stress,” stated a report published by the Columbia Social Work Review.
The report found that the number of incarcerated women who have children has increased by 87 percent since 1990, with Black and Hispanic women representing the majority of those incarcerated.
“The prevailing societal assumption that incarcerated mothers are a negative influence on their children is inconsistent with, and unreflective of, an incarcerated woman’s actual role in the lives of her children, which may have been very positive,” said Tanya Krupat, program director of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents at the Osborne Association.
Federal child-welfare laws designed to assist children of incarcerated parents have reportedly posed more obstacles than help for the youth.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) allows for parental rights to be terminated if a child resides in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months,this can be problematic “because a typical sentence for an incarcerated parent is between 80 and 100 months,” the Review stated.
“It is entirely plausible that a mother sentenced to three years as a first-time felony drug offender for selling $10 worth of drugs will face the real and disturbing prospect of permanently losing all rights to her children,” states a study of Women in Prison by the Correctional Association of New York.
An alternative to incarcerating primary caregivers is a pilot program called the Drew House in Brownsville, New York. There women and their children live in their own apartments, and are provided a therapeutic environment with family therapist and employment specialists. More importantly, they avoid the traumatic impact of maternal separation on children, the Review states.
“To house a mother and two children for a year, it costs $34,000, compared with $129,000 for both incarceration and foster care,” The New York Times reported.
–By John Lam