It is estimated that there is approximately 2 million youths in the United States that have an incarcerated parent. It is also estimated that there are over 7 million children with one parent who is under the supervision of the Federal or state correctional authorities. The figures indicate that there are nearly 200 children out of every 1,000 who are in dire need of guidance and mentoring from relatives, concerned parties or the government. Any mentoring organization in private or government practice has a high likelihood of encountering at least one of these children, making it extremely essential that the needs of children of prisoners must be considered and integrated into specific mentoring practices.
Children with special needs
Children of prisoners undergo plenty of physical and emotional challenges that other children who live in normal households won't. Some of these challenges include:
- Having to cope with being separated from that parent for long periods of time, with some children having to deal with repeated incarcerations of his or her parent/s.
- Having to deal with infrequent visitations or the experience of going through procedures in prisons just to visit the parent.
- Having to deal with social stigma that usually accompanies children with parents who are incarcerated such as teasing, name-calling, guilt, etc.
- Having to live in conditions or environments that are unstable, unreliable and often less than ideal.
The problems of allowing children of prisoners to cope without any extra help often increase depending on certain factors, such as:
- the age of the child
- the presence of another parent or authority figure
- the quality of time spent by the child in the care and guidance of this parent or authority figure
- the economic status of the child's family
Without the availability of an effective mentoring program for children of prisoners, there is a high risk that they will develop problems both personal and social, such as:
- using and abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age
- irregular attendance in school
- developing problems with their peers
- finding outlet in destructive behavior or developing relationships with questionable individuals or groups
Using mentoring programs for children of prisoners
To help improve this group of children's chances at experiencing success in school and in their social interactions, certain mentoring programs are being made available in both private and government organizations, such as those funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some of the mentoring resources that children of prisoners can look forward to include:
1. Access to a wide variety of educational, counseling, guidance and healthcare services that include the children, their siblings, other family members or caregivers. Many of these programs may even include the incarcerated parent/s.
2. Access to the appropriate resources that children of imprisoned parents can use, such as books, data and other information that will help them cope with the absence of either or both parents.
3. Access to mentoring and counseling services that can assure high levels of confidentiality to protect the child's identity.
4. Access to realistic and non-judgmental services from mentors and volunteers who also have the right background, training and experience to assist the children.
5. Opportunities to maximize their natural capabilities and experience new activities that will help them learn and cope in their environment.
6. Opportunities to experience leadership roles with their peers.
7. Assistance in terms of guidance and even financial services to help caregivers of children of prisoners cope with the financial burdens of running a household in the absence of one or both parents.