“The children of prisoners are guaranteed nothing. They have committed no crime, but the penalty they are required to pay is steep. They forfeit, too often, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection. Their lives and prospects are profoundly affected by the multiple institutions that lay claim to their parents—police, courts, jails and prisons, probation and parole—but they have no rights, explicit or implicit, within any of these jurisdictions.”
The text above is from the publication Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights, an initiative of the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership. The concepts it contains formed the basis of the November monthly mentor training, led by Seedling Foundation Executive Director Sari Waxler.
This 20-page booklet may be viewed at http://www.sfcipp.org/images/brochure.pdf. The back cover has a summary of the Bill of Rights and their explanation, but it is the facts and narratives within that create our understanding of the special world of the children we serve. The SFCIPP website has additional information about advocacy as well.
What happens in our community?
The Austin Police Department has implemented a child endangerment/child-in-need-of-supervision checklist to ensure the safety of children during the arrest of a parent or caregiver. The checklist includes steps for the safe placement of the child, and consultation and follow-up with child protective series as necessary by APD. These processes put into place by our law enforcement safe guard against our most vulnerable children being marginalized and invisible during the arrest of a parent in their presence.
The Victims Services Unit of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office has created a brochure for caregivers on Child Sensitive Arrests that is provided to the family member at the time of arrest. We could not locate the pamphlet in electronic form, but your Mentor Director will place a few photocopies in the back of your Seedling sign-in binder. (Satellite mentors, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy.) Some mentors were so impressed with this practice that they inquired how to thank the county department for this foresight. You may reach Sheriff Greg Hamilton at P.O. Box 1748 Austin, TX 78767.
We are fortunate to live in a community that has invested some progressive thought regarding the rights of children whose parents become involved in the justice system should have, but there is still work to be done. One local group is the Austin-Travis County Re-entry Roundtable www.reentryroundtable.net. Their mission is to be a robust, community-wide collaborative and catalyst for systemic change that educates, facilitates, and advocates to promote public safety through effective reentry and reintegration of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons. The participation of any community member is welcome.
A few lucky mentors at the November 14th event left with one of two door prizes, either the SFCIPP booklet or a copy of All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated by Nell Bernstein, a compelling book that unveils the lack of sensitivity and process for children whose families are torn apart by current incarceration policy. This book is available at amazon.com.
– Seedling’s Mentor Program Staff