When you consider the justice system, do you also think of those who are impacted in addition to the individual facing incarceration in prison? All too often, those incarcerated are not thought of beyond being a felon. In reality, most of them are loved members of their families. They are loved mothers or fathers.
In NH, there are an estimated 15,000 children with a parent who is incarcerated. Another way to think of this, is that 1 in 28 children have a parent in jail or prison; that can be visualized as one in every classroom! Therefore, when we impulsively say that we do not know anybody impacted by prison or we have not worked with a child impacted by incarceration, we may have simply never asked the question. (Annie E. Casey Foundation Policy Report, 2016)
Perhaps the question is not asked because it is uncomfortable or for some not even a thought that comes to mind. The fact is that the question is uncomfortable for the adult without knowledge of incarceration, and for this child, it is their everyday reality.
On average, a child who has a parent who is incarcerated may also have almost three additional adverse childhood experiences in their household, such as abuse, untreated mental health, substance abuse/misuse, or domestic violence. Although families affected by incarceration face challenges, it is unfair to assume this means that they are unwilling or undeserving of better.
The Family Connections Center (FCC) is a uniquely placed family resource center within the NH Department of Corrections; there are four locations: the Northern NH Correctional Facility, the State Prison for Men, the NH Correctional Facility for Women, and the Transitional Work Center.
Although each Center functions slightly different based on their facility, the mission statement remains the same: To strengthen the connection between incarcerated parents and their families while facilitating ties to their communities through education and support.
The staff within the FCC hold the core belief that with education and support parents who are incarcerated can be the best parents they can be while incarcerated and develop skills to further assist them when released. Through parenting and relationship classes, ongoing support groups, various additional classes and seminars, each participant is given the opportunity to increase their knowledge of child development and parenting skills. For some of them, they are able to practice these skills during bi-weekly tele-visits with their children, which they are then provided parent coaching on to discuss how they feel the visit went and how it could have improved.
Connection opportunities between parents and children include the tele-visits and also being able to create an audiobook for their child, attend a Family Fun Day, or the Children of Incarcerated Parents Summer Camp.
Many of the parents working with the Family Connections Center are involved in other family systems such as Child Support, Child Protection, or Family Court and because of their own past or present experiences, they generally express feeling overwhelmed by these and therefore avoid them. Within the FCC, we encourage parents to work with us in reaching out to the systems their children have become a part of so that they can better understand and take part in all aspects of the process.
Often, once a participant becomes comfortable with the program, they will begin talking and asking about how they can repair relationships that have been severed because of their incarceration, which typically has addiction or mental health as its foundation. Their willingness to become vulnerable to their and their child’s emotional needs while incarcerated is symbolic of their desire to be a better and fully present parent when released.
We empathize with the variety of emotions that occur when working with or caring about a person who has been to prison and we think it is important that those community members, family members, and professionals who work or live with a person incarcerated know that our program exists. We encourage those in the community to ask about the Family Connection Center if they know a parent who is incarcerated and under the custody of the NH Department of Corrections; encourage them to reach out because although we try to connect with each parent when they become incarcerated it can be helpful if they are getting encouragement from somebody they already know.
We are also open to having conversations about our program with any family or community member. Please feel to reach out to the FCC Administrator, Kristina Toth, or any Center, to learn more.
Written by Tiffani Arsenault Family Support Specialist and the Family Connections Center
FCC Administrator, Kristina Toth
FCC – Concord Men’s
FCC – Northern Correctional Facility for Men
FCC – Correctional Facility for Women
Annie E. Casey Foundation Policy Report. A Shared Sentence the devastating toll of parental incarceration on kids, families and communities. April 2016.