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Best Practices For Grief: Parental Incarceration

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2.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent.

Often key players in the lives of youth have difficulty knowing how to best support children and teens impacted parental incarceration.  Due to the stigma and shame incarceration brings, the incarceration of a parent is often kept a secret.  This creates and perpetuates even more feelings of alienation and shame youth touched by incarceration may already be feeling.  From their peers, to their teachers, to the many adults impacting their lives, these youth often struggle to find someone they can trust. They often resort to isolation.

Below is the fourth video in this video series highlighting best practices for educators, teachers, and other vital players in the lives of grieving youth today.  For this interview I sat down with Zoe Willmott, Project Manager for Community Works Project WHAT!  WHAT! stands for We’re Here and Talking.  In this best practice video, Willmott draws on knowledge she’s gained from her experience working with teens impacted by parental incarceration and from her own experience of being a child with an incarcerated parent.

Willmott tells us that a child or teen impacted by parental incarceration may experience a range of feelings related to their parent, their parent’s incarceration, and the relationship the young person has with his/her parent.  So as adults working with this population of youth, honoring all feelings a young person impacted by parental incarceration may have is vital to their coping and healing.

Willmott reminds us about the importance of authenticity and being honest when working with children and teens impacted by parental incarceration.  Oftentimes these youth are told their parent has left for vacation or the military for example, instead of jail or prison.  With this in mind, it is imperative that youth impacted by parental incarceration learn to see adults as trustworthy.

One of the key takeaways from my interview with Willmott is the importance of remembering the resilience of children and teens impacted by parental incarceration.  They have so much to offer the world around them.  Most of the time these youth aren’t looking for pity or for someone to feel sorry for them.  Children and teens impacted by parental incarceration are looking for someone to listen to them.

Do you know of helpful resources for working with children and teens impacted by parental incarceration?  Do you know of an organization working with this population of youth that you think isn’t getting enough attention? Please leave a comment below or email me at amlee@sisgigroup.org.

Anna-Maija is a mother to five highly energetic world changers, a Licensed Social Worker, and a recent graduate of the University of Southern California where she attained a Master of Social Work. This article is written on behalf of the The SISGI Group as part of their Institute for Social Change research on social issues and social good. The SISGI Group is a consulting and nonprofit organization dedicated to providing strategic resources for mission driven work. Learn more at www.sisgigroup.com.

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