How can schools best serve students with incarcerated parents?

BRIEF

How can schools best serve students with incarcerated parents?

Dive Brief:

  • Students who are dealing with changes at home due to parental incarceration can develop behavioral problems in class and become careless about their academics, but districts are responding with extra mentoring, clubs and teacher training.
  • District Administration reports counselors in Pennsylvania's Harrisburg School District lead small, trauma-focused discussion groups for students with incarcerated parents, and the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated offers training resources for teachers, including strategies like recognizing warning signs in students and adopting inclusive language to talk about caregivers.
  • Many districts have longstanding partnerships with local nonprofits to run student support groups, and San Francisco and Washington State are among the jurisdictions where schools are facilitating parent-teacher conferences between teachers and incarcerated parents — either in person or by phone.

Dive Insight:

About 1 in 14 kids has a parent who has been incarcerated. In predominantly black and Latino communities, that portion is even higher. Because families are not required to disclose parental incarceration, schools can find it difficult to identify students for extra services and supports, but that’s one area where teacher training can help.

Anna Haskins, an assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University, has studied the particular impact paternal incarceration has on young boys. Looking at boys ages 1 to 5 years old, Haskins found paternal incarceration can be tied to greater non-cognitive behavioral problems, which in turn contribute to more frequent placement in special education classes by the time these kids turn 9. Her research emphasizes the importance of beginning interventions early in elementary school. Waiting until middle or high school can be too late.

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