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GO KIDS Articles

Breaking the Cycle: Equipping Children of Offenders

by Christina Melton Crain
Headnotes
Dallas Bar Association
September 1, 2005

Today, one in 32 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional supervision, including jails, prisons, probation and parole. This translates into approximately seven million children having a parent under some form of correctional supervision, with two million of them having parents incarcerated in a state or federal prison, or a local county jail.

Since 1991, the number of children with parents in prison has increased by more than 50 percent. Because of the incarceration of their parent(s), many of these children experience the trauma of sudden separation of their sole caregiver, and they can be vulnerable to feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression and even guilt. They are moved from caregiver to caregiver and, absent positive intervention and influence, the behavioral consequences can be severe.

As an attorney who focuses in large part on the representation of minors, I have personally found that many of the children I represent have at least one parent who has been or is currently under some form of correctional supervision – whether it be probation, incarceration or parole. Many of these minors have also been abused and/or neglected or are already showing signs of delinquency.

As chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (the oversight authority of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice), I work with the parents of these minors daily.

Recent findings by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice indicate that children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. This has prompted a nationwide focus to target services for this high-risk group to assist in breaking the cycle.

Cognizant of the vital role all members of a family play in the life of a child, this past fall I encouraged the TDCJ to implement a new initiative called GO KIDS, an acronym for Giving Offenders’ Kids Incentive and Direction to Succeed.

GO KIDS brings to the forefront the importance of preserving family ties and providing positive prevention and intervention services to these high-risk children. Maintained through the TDCJ Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs Division, a link on the Agency’s Web site (www.tdcj.texas.gov) provides a reliable connection to valuable resources and services, not only within the community, but across Texas and throughout the nation.

GO KIDS touches offenders through programs geared toward strengthening the parent/child relationship, as well as their families and children. For the latter, GO KIDS provides resources that offer basic fundamental elements such as mentoring and encouraging parent/child relationships, as well as support in the areas of health, legal counsel and employment.

Parenting training, stress management training, social and mental health services, home-based interventions and advocacy with schools are also services that can be obtained. Since positive youth development is a key factor in breaking the cycle of incarceration, many of the offered programs are geared toward creating for children a sense of personal safety, belonging, self-worth and responsibility, as well as support and guidance from caring adults.

For the offenders, GO KIDS focuses on programs that provide effective parenting education and training, as well as offering avenues to facilitate parent/child connections. Within the prison system, these include programs such as “Pappas and Their Children” and the “Girl Scouts Behind Bars.” For parolees and probationers, resource information on counseling and social services is available in almost every county of the state.

A link to national resources is also available through GO KIDS, offering contact information for organizations such as Prison Fellowship, the Family and Corrections Network and the Child Welfare League of America, just to name a few.

GO KIDS is not just a resource to be used by offenders and their families. It can be an invaluable resource tool for attorneys to help their clients. If a client’s family dynamics involve a child, the attorney can provide that client, his/her spouse and/or the caregivers of that child with information about assistance and resources available to them -- resources that could make a difference in the lives of all involved.

Those of us at the Texas Board of Criminal Justice believe the various entities that make up our criminal justice system (probation, prison/state jails and parole) must exhibit elements of hope, possibility and opportunity. By providing and using the resources available, children can gain hope and direction, an offender’s family bond can be created and/or strengthened, and this can ultimately impact the next generation.

In addition to serving as chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, Christina Melton Crain specializes in children/juvenile representation, ad litem representation and mediation, and chairs the DBA Board of Directors.