Spring is here and it has come with many opportunities for YANA to participate in community events! We’ve had the opportunity to read to first grade students, participate in a community fair for under-served communities, serve as a panel member for a mental health symposium, and speak to high school students about the impact of parental incarceration on their peers. All these opportunities provided a wonderful experience to spread knowledge about parental incarceration as well as gain firsthand insight regarding what challenges various communities are experiencing.

As a result of our participation in the community events in this past month, I noticed a reoccurring theme that many in our communities are experiencing; STIGMA. Stigma is a mark of shame or discredit; a stain. In Greek and Latin, a stigma was a mark or brand that labeled one as inferior. Stigmas have a negative impact on one’s personal identity and have stifled under-served communities because they are preventing many from accessing the services they may need as well as seeking support or guidance from others.

While speaking to students regarding parental incarceration, quite a few inform me that they too are children of incarcerated parents. They further revealed that many of their peers don’t know about their situation for fear of being treated differently, embarrassed, or being discriminated against. This is very common in the over 2.7 million children across the U.S dealing with parental incarceration.  Some of the stigmas that children of parental incarceration experience include:

An altered perception of self. Because mom/dad is in prison, will others think I will end up in prison as well.

Anticipation of judgement from others. Being treated badly/discriminated against because mom/dad is in prison.

Feelings of being different. The inability to participate in Mother’s/Father’s Day, school activities that involve parents, or having more adult responsibilities than my peers.

Bullying and harassment from others.

Fear of having a stigma bestowed upon them has resulted in children wanting to keep their parental incarceration a secret.  Because of this they tend to experience isolation, have few friends, or gravitate towards troubled relationships. Children that want to keep their parental incarceration a secret also demonstrate anxiety about others finding out about their parental incarceration. Their secrecy increases the risk of behavior challenges due to low levels of social support.

Despite the dismal effects of the stigma associated with parental incarceration, we can remove the stigma by providing support in the following ways:

  • Help children of incarcerated parents separate the action of the parents from their own actions.
  • Become educated and educate others regarding the effects of parental incarceration on children
  • Encourage the participation in support groups and if there aren’t any, start one!
  • Focus on the positive attributes of the child
  • Always encourage children to find a trusted person to talk to
  • Create opportunities to mentor children of incarcerated parents

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