CCSU initiative helps kids with parents behind bars
Posted on Apr 26, 2015 by Lisa Backus - The Bristol Press
NEW BRITAIN — Children of parents who are incarcerated face challenges that other kids can’t even imagine.
There can be a loss of income, a loss of the person who loved and cared for them, a loss of dignity and a quiet shame that is often hidden from classmates, teachers and friends, said Aileen Keays, a research specialist with Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy.
But the Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative, which Keays manages, offers programs that help kids deal with the stigma of having a parent incarcerated and maintain family relationships despite long odds.
"We’re trying to promote sound criminal justice policy regarding the parents because that effects the kids," Keays said of the initiative.
According to national figures supplied by CIP, one in 346 children has a parent deployed in the U.S. military, one in 191 children is in foster care and one in 28 children has an incarcerated parent. State Department of Corrections statistics in recent years have placed New Britain among the top five cities in the state for the percentage of residents who are incarcerated.
"New Britain does have a high rate of parental incarceration," Keays said. "By increasing awareness of incarceration on children and families and how best it is to support them we can help our communities be stronger."
The CIP initiative was created in 2008 through funding by the Legislature to provide services for children whose parents are incarcerated. Since then, the initiative has helped hundreds of children through services and innovative programs that provide counseling and outlets for artistic expression to help them gain a sense of mastery over the emotions evoked by a missing parent.
They offer mentoring, in-home counseling and case management with experts in dealing with incarceration and a variety of children’s programming. The initiative helps children throughout the state.
"One of the things that’s important is we have to get our projects out there so we can help reduce the stigma for the families of people who are incarcerated," said Hannah Hurwitz, who works with Keays on the initiative as the program administrator for IMRP.
The group funded an art intervention initiative in New Britain involving fifth-grade students from Gaffney and DiLoreto elementary schools who produced journals and works of art with the help of CCSU professors.
"It involved the entire class, not just the children with incarcerated parents," Keays said. "What we found out was that the kids that benefited the most were the ones with parents who were incarcerated."
The group also offers a "Believe in Me" after-school literature program in New Haven for 11- to 15-year-olds with parents who are incarcerated that includes reading, writing, self-awareness, empowerment and the principles of Kwanzaa. The kids read books that talk about the challenges of having a close family member incarcerated but that also give hope that they can succeed, Keays said.
The initiative is also looking for people who would be willing to speak on camera about the impact a felony conviction for a minor offense has had on their life as part of a public service announcement creating awareness on the life-long consequences of a criminal conviction.
"There are so many consequences and barriers for people with felony convictions," Keays said. "It’s not improving public safety and there are no positive restrictions."
They also have sponsored a performance project with Judy Dworkin that allowed children and their mothers who are incarcerated at York corrections facility in Niantic to create works of art and then share their projects with each other at the prison.
"The children spent an entire Saturday with their moms, which normally doesn’t happen," Keays said. "They had snacks together, they took photos together. What I noticed was that there was a lot of stroking because during regular visits they aren’t allowed to touch."
For more information on how to participate in the public service announcement, call (860) 832-1878. For more information on programs provided by the Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative, call (860) 832-1878 or visit their website at www.CTCIP.org.
Lisa Backus can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 306 or Lbackus@newbritainherald.com.