More than 20,000 Maine children – 8 percent—have a parent that has served time
A new KIDS COUNT® report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that the nation’s over-reliance on mass incarceration has had a devastating impact on American children, bringing increased poverty, homelessness, hunger and emotional pain into their lives. Now more than 5 million children in the United States have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives, including 20,000 children in Maine.
A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities proposes recommendations for state and local policy makers to minimize the impact of incarceration on the lives of children throughout the nation and give them a fair chance for a bright future.
According to the report, at 8 percent, Maine has the highest percentage in New England of children who have lived with a parent who has been incarcerated and is above the national average of 7 percent. Only 13 other states have higher percentages of children with incarcerated parents than Maine. For such a small state, this is troubling news.
“Parental incarceration has a damaging ripple effect on children, families and communities,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “As the state with the highest parental incarceration rate in New England, Maine must ensure that children in families with incarcerated parents can still reach their full potential.”
Parental incarceration destabilizes the lives of Maine’s children and can have lasting effects on their development and well-being. Often, incarceration severs a child’s connection to their parent, one of the most important relationships in their young lives. In addition to causing separation anxiety and weakening relationships, having a parent incarcerated is a traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence and divorce, according to research.
In A Shared Sentence, the Casey Foundation provides recommendations to mitigate the damage caused to children with incarcerated parents, and the impact on their families and communities. The report’s core policy recommendations are:
- Ensure children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return.
- Connect parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment.
- Strengthen communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by incarceration and reentry, to promote family stability and opportunity.
The current heroin epidemic in Maine means that rate of children who have an incarcerated parent is likely to increase. Therefore, it is imperative that state and local governments, public and private agencies, law enforcement officers, and health professionals continue to work to develop policies that prioritize the psychological, emotional and economic needs of Maine children when sentencing parents.
“When a child experiences a traumatic event, like parental incarceration, it can have truly devastating effects on their future growth and development,” said Sue Mackey Andrews, co-founder and co-facilitator for the Maine Resilience Building Network. “If we can alleviate the impact of parental incarceration early on, Maine children are in a better position to succeed.”
Detailed recommendations can be found in A Shared Sentence and additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.