The Second Chance Society, 1.0 and 2.0, are very important and reminiscent of Connecticut’s progressive nature. But, as a policy analyst for a nonprofit in Hartford whose agency has strongly supported this legislation, I’m becoming increasingly concerned as to why children with incarcerated parents have not been included in either version of this legislation.

As of April 1, 2016, 54 percent of those currently incarcerated reported being a caregiver. Over 75 percent of those with an incarcerated caregiver are from single parent homes. Single caregivers left to take on the financial burdens that occur when a family member becomes incarcerated also risk suffering from poor health, addiction, depression or anxiety. More than 18,000 dependents in our state have been through this distressing experience; one that research has found to be as traumatic as other types of parental loss, including divorce and even death.

Experiencing the incarceration of a caregiver is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).  Exposure to an ACE is associated with increased risk for toxic stress and trauma. According to a recent Annie E. Casey Report, the trauma of being separated from a parent, along with a lack of sympathy or support from others, can increase children’s mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.  It can also significantly hamper educational achievement.

Connecticut does not have legislation that considers the impact of caregiver incarceration on a child. In the last five years, all legislation seeking to support youth with incarcerated parents have failed to pass. The most recent bill, S.B. 361, An Act Concerning Family Impact Statements, died in the House of Representatives in 2014. This bill had no fiscal note. It simply asked that courts take into account the impact that imprisonment of a defendant would have on their family and children. The defendant would have the opportunity to describe their relationship with their child, discuss the availability of community and additional family support for their child, and talk about the financial needs of the child and family in hopes that extended periods of separation and other types of trauma could be avoided. 

For years, researchers have shown the value of the parent-child attachment relationship.  If this relationship isn’t nurtured, it can become estranged – resulting in behavioral problems, educational failures and inconsistent social and romantic relationships throughout adulthood.

Rightly so, Connecticut has been very focused on helping those re-entering into society – and that’s something to promote with pride. But, wouldn’t providing support for a child and ensuring contact with their caregiver during incarceration bring everything full circle? The answer seems obvious.

This next legislative session, let’s propose a Second Chance Society 3.0, one whose purpose is to support the children of those who are likely to become or are incarcerated. 

Erica Dean is a policy analyst for the Connecticut Association for Human Services

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