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July 2012Vol. 13, No. 6Children With Incarcerated Parents: Mental Health Aspects

The spring 2012 issue of Child Rights Litigation, an American Bar Association (ABA) publication, features an article about meeting the needs of children with incarcerated parents. The authors also touch on collaborative opportunities and best practices between the child welfare and justice systems. Three case studies are provided by attorneys and guardians ad litem, each focused on visitation and accompanied by a mental health analysis. The article is a follow-up to "A Voice for the Young Child With an Incarcerated Parent," which focused on the mental health aspect of parent-child separation and visiting with incarcerated parents.

In one of the case studies, a 3-year-old boy removed from his mother's care at 20 months experienced multiple relative and nonrelative placements. During visits with his mother at a jail/substance abuse treatment facility, the boy exhibited uncharacteristic behaviors, including hitting and biting. His caregiver reported that the behavior continued for 1 week after the visit. It was determined that the facility was not an appropriate place for the boy and his mother, and visiting was suspended; however, it was decided that visiting could resume in a therapeutic setting after the mother completed treatment.

The mental health analysis following the case study points to several holes and missing details in the case study. There was no mention of a case plan goal, such as reunification or filing for permanent custody, or goals for visiting. These missing details are important because they may determine the appropriate tools used by mental health practitioners to help the boy and his mother achieve case plan and/or visiting goals.

The other case studies explore the experiences of three young siblings who were removed from their parents due to multiple incarcerations for theft, drug abuse, and child endangerment charges, and a teenager whose parental visits helped to improve his behavioral problems and other therapeutic struggles.

"Meeting the Needs of Children With an Incarcerated Parent," by Lynne Reckman, Katie Gates, Meredith Schnug, and Debra Rothstein, Child Rights Litigation, Spring 2012, is available on the American Bar Association's website:

Related Items

For more information on and resources for working with children with incarcerated parents, visit the following pages on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website: 

Children's Bureau Express most recently covered the topic of incarcerated parents in the following articles: