People who work with school-aged children quickly discover that very young people are dealing with some very grown-up problems.  The statistics are staggering – close to six million US children have experienced losing a parent to incarceration at some point in their lives, as reported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a figure which corresponds with the Pew Charitable Trust report that 1 in 28 children in the US currently has a parent behind bars.  Incarceration of a parent or caregiver is devastating, but children are also adversely affected by the incarceration of any close family member, whether it’s a sibling, grandparent, or another member of the child’s family.  The trauma caused to the child by this separation is similar to the trauma a child faces during a divorce or the death of a loved one.

Children with loved ones incarcerated often struggle physically and emotionally.  Physically, families who lose a caregiver to incarceration often face food insecurity and homelessness.  Mentally and emotionally, children begin to exhibit behaviors which get them into trouble at home and school as they take out their anger, frustration, and embarrassment in damaging ways.  The upheaval at home caused by the incarceration of the family member leaves the child unable to concentrate on schoolwork which causes the child to fall behind academically.  Children traumatized by the sudden absence of an incarcerated loved one are overly tired, due to untreated depression from having their loved one gone for a long period of time, and to increased family activity associated with incarceration, such as long trips to visit their loved ones in prison.  These things lead a child to being withdrawn, both emotionally and physically, especially when the remaining caregiver focuses exclusively on the incarcerated loved one to the neglect of the child.  The toll all of this takes on the child ends with the child feeling isolated from peers and activities – whether that isolation comes from the family being too overwhelmed to take the child to participate, or the child is ostracized by classmates because of the stigma associated with incarceration.

Extended Family programs are designed to help children struggling with the incarceration of a loved one.  Our Extended Family for Kids (EFK) and Extended Leadership Academy (ELA) lessons have shared goals.  First, to break the cycle of incarceration in families by giving children tools for coping with stress and anger, which leads to making better choices.  Second, to help prevent Our Kids from entering into the juvenile justice system, which for many youth is the first step on the treacherous road to long-term incarceration as an adult.  Third, to give each child the message, “You matter,” which not only helps to restore a child’s self-esteem, but is the foundation for that child learning that, not only is it possible to dream and plan for the future, but that those dreams can come true, even though they have a loved one who is incarcerated.

Extended Family programs are evidence-based, solution-oriented, and designed to empower students with the coping skills they need to be successful.  That is why we train caring adults in schools, community organizations, and other places that offer safety and support for Our Kids.  We want EFK and ELA programs available to every child who needs them.  If you are interested in bringing Extended Family programs to your community, please contact for more information.

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