Beyond Incarceration

BEYOND INCARCERATION.

 Our Steps to Support the more than 37,000 Silent Victims of Incarceration in Cook County: Children.

Chicago Beyond, The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, The Chicago Children’s Museum and The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital Launch Program to Support Youth Whose Fathers are Incarcerated

“At the core of this initiative are the silent victims of incarceration: more than 37,000 children in Cook County alone who have been impacted by parental separation caused by incarceration in the last six months. This is the first program of its kind in the nation that applies a trauma-informed lens to promote healing from the shame and stigma associated with having an incarcerated parent and specifically focuses on fatherhood. Our hope is that with this groundbreaking pilot, we can support the children of incarcerated parents with safe visitation opportunities that are conducive to strengthening families and their relationships as the parents await trial.”  - Chicago Beyond, The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, The Chicago Children’s Museum and The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Nationally, more than five million children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood. In Cook County alone, more than 37,000 children in the past six months have experienced losing a parent to incarceration.

Black children and children from poverty-stricken families are more likely to experience parental incarceration, and the overwhelming majority of incarcerated parents are fathers. Losing a parent to incarceration can impact children’s mental health, social behavior and academic achievement, increasing their risk of future involvement with the criminal justice system. The emotional trauma that may result from parental incarceration is often exacerbated by the social stigma that youth may face. 

 Research shows that the preservation of a child’s relationship with the incarcerated parent is beneficial to the child, the incarcerated parent, and society as a whole. This relationship can reduce the possibility of the child experiencing mental health issues, increase the likelihood of the successful reentry of the incarcerated parent to society and lower the odds of recidivism.

 Very few programs exist to support these bonds and heal these relationships. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart has been working to change this reality by exploring ways to improve safe visitation practices that are guided by the latest research and experts in this field.

 That’s why, expanding on the work of other correctional institutions, such as Riker’s Island and Topeka Correctional Institution, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Chicago Beyond and the Chicago Children’s Museum to initiate family-friendly, child-centered visitation experiences for children whose parents are incarcerated, their incarcerated fathers and their caregivers

This initiative is the first-of-its-kind in the nation to focus on the father-child relationship, and with the support of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital, apply a trauma-informed approach throughout the visit to support all participants and staff. Planning took place over the course of one year and included learnings from the Riker’s Island and Children’s Museum of Manhattan visitation program as well as the Topeka Correctional Facility and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center program.

 Additionally, extensive training, collaboration, and planning meetings occurred over the course of eight months to ensure the safety of all involved, particularly the children. On August 12, 2019 the partnership of the aforementioned organizations supported six children and their caregivers as they were allowed to reconnect with their fathers in a healthy environment and reduce the lasting impact of the trauma caused by family separation. 

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This program builds off of the work of Dr. Nneka Tapia Jones, Chicago Beyond’s inaugural Leader in Residence. Nneka is a psychologist and former warden of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Since Nneka joined the team at Chicago Beyond in 2018, she has been working to improve the mental health of young Chicagoans by developing initiatives to influence and support the development of a trauma-sensitive city for Chicago’s youth including those whose parents have been incarcerated. 

 Parental incarceration is personal to Nneka, as she experienced it herself at a young age, losing her father for a number of years due to drug charges. 

 “I was fortunate that both of my parents made sure I still had that bond with my dad,” Nneka told WTTW in an interview last year. “I recognize now as an adult, had it not been for the support system … that I could’ve very easily fallen prey to some of the risk factors that children with incarcerated parents often experience.”

 You can read more about Nneka and Chicago Beyond’s Leadership Venture here. 

For more information, please contact press@chicagobeyond.org.