For the first time in state history, a coalition of government agencies and family advocacy groups convened on Monday, November 15, at New York Law School, to develop a strategic plan to address the needs of the more than 100,000 children in New York who have an incarcerated parent.
“Helping children connect with their moms or dads during this painful separation is based on a simple principle: children love their parents and parents love their children,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, the organizing host of the summit. “Research consistently demonstrates that supporting this foundational relationship meets the needs and respects the rights of children, and strengthening the family leads to improved outcomes for parents and their children during and following incarceration.”
This unprecedented summit held at the Abbey Law Center for Children and Families at New York Law School brought together criminal justice system agencies, child welfare professionals, legal experts, educators, and individuals directly affected by parental incarceration, with the goal of producing a “white paper” with specific recommendations for New York State. When completed early next year, the recommendations will be delivered to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and other leaders to inform public policy, guide programmatic decisions, and provide a clear direction for New York State.
Over the last three years, the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, which was established by the Osborne Association, has brought together public agencies – ranging from child welfare and education to justice system agencies – along with many community organizations that serve children or their incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parents. Funding is provided by the Open Society Institute, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Ira DeCamp Foundation and New Yorkers for Children.
Ms. Gaynes said that more than 2 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent, and approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives.
“Research shows that when a parent is locked up in jail or prison, whether locally or hours away from home, the impact on the family, especially children, is traumatic,” according to Tanya Krupat, director of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. “Many of the children, particularly of incarcerated mothers, end up in foster care. They may endure shame and humiliation, face an increased risk for developing mental health problems, experience school failure or drop out, and commonly encounter stigma from peers and adults which increases the isolation they feel. It is no wonder that human rights advocates have referred to parental incarceration as one of the greatest threats to child well-being in the United States.”
According to Commissioner John Mattingly of New York City’s Children’s Services (ACS), “Supporting children of incarcerated parents offers enormous benefits – most importantly to children and their healthy futures – but also from a cost-savings and effective public policy perspective. These measures affect entire families and thus entire communities throughout New York State.”
“We see from inside and outside the prison system how incarcerated parents and their children benefit from stronger bonds,” said Brian Fischer, commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services. “Good parent-child relationships are critical to helping incarcerated parents cope with incarceration and prepare for their return to society, thereby reducing recidivism and benefitting everyone, while helping the children better understand and come to terms with a father or mother in prison. The greater the understanding of the issue we can generate, the greater the benefit for the children and the stronger the family reintegration.”
The summit included a panel discussion of youth who have experienced the incarceration of a parent, followed by a panel discussion of agency leaders, including: Brian S. Fischer, Commissioner, New York State Department of Correctional Services; Gladys Carrion, Commissioner, New York State Office of Children and Family Services; Vincent Schiraldi; Commissioner, New York City Department of Probation; and Jeanne Mullgrav, Commissioner, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. The panel was moderated by Leonard Noisette of the Open Society Institute. Rev. Alfonso Wyatt of the Fund for the City of New York emceed the event. Award winning actor, singer and writer Daniel Beaty also appeared at the summit. Key support for the summit has been provided by the Sills Family Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The summit was convened by a Steering Committee that includes representatives of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Subcommittee on Children of Incarcerated Parents, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, the Kings County District Attorney, New York State Department of Correctional Services, New York State Education Department, NYS Office of Children and Family Services, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, Council on Children and Families, Hour Children, Women’s Prison Association, the Correctional Association of New York, Housing Plus Solutions, Legal Information for Families Today, New York State Kinship Navigator, Sills Family Foundation, and the Florence V. Burden Foundation.