“One in every 28 children in the U.S. has a parent behind bars, up from one in 125 just 25 years ago.” Collateral Costs [Pew Charitable Trust report].  Numerous studies have been conducted to measure the impact incarceration has on children and the results are bleak.

“School-age children of incarcerated parents exhibit school-related problems with peer relationships. As children reach adolescence, suspension and drop-out rates are higher for these children.” (Trice, 1997). (http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/prison2home02/parke-stewart.htm.

“A recent study conducted in New York and Alabama with children of incarcerated parents found: 1) An undermined sense of stability and safety – The sudden removal of a parent from daily life fundamentally undermines a child’s sense of stability and safety; 2) Threats to economic security – Parental incarceration, unsurprisingly, impacts the economic circumstances of children and the extended family; 3) A compromised sense of connectedness and worthiness – Parental incarceration presents significant obstacles to a child’s experience of the kind of unconditional bond with parents needed to lay the foundation for a stable adult life; 4) Loss of attachments and ability to trust – Once the parental presence is removed, many young people have trouble trusting others and letting caring adults into their lives; and 5) No sense of having a place in the world – Children typically experience parental incarceration as a form of rejection; they see the parent’s reckless behavior as having taken precedence over their family,” (Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Human Costs of Parental Incarceration. Allard, Patricia Grene, Judith. Tides Center. Justice Strategies (Project), Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2011).

These stressors lead to a decrease in overall health and well-being. Students suffer emotionally – grieving the loss of the loved one just as they would with a divorce or death in the family. They suffer physically – turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, eating disorders, cutting, anti-social behavior, and angry aggression. They suffer mentally with depression and isolation. They develop an unhealthy fear of law enforcement.

Extended Family for Kids (EFK) Lessons teach life-changing skills. Students learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices so they can improve their quality of life emotionally, mentally, and physically. Moral questions are discussed, such as “Who’s to blame?” when someone is incarcerated. Most importantly, we impress on students the choices they must make for themselves, without the influence of incarcerated family members or others.EFK Lessons have the goals of breaking the cycle of incarceration in the child’s family, helping the child to make choices that will keep them out of the juvenile justice system, and showing each individual child “You matter.”  EFK is open to any school-age child who has a parent or any other loved one who is incarcerated, past or present.  Extended Family trains EFK Program Leaders across the nation with other adults who share these goals.  To bring EFK to your community, contact Laure Clemons, laure@extendedfamilyhelp.org

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