Parents who are incarcerated face a unique set of challenges because they must work within and across both the child welfare and corrections systems. They may experience difficulties in meeting case plan requirements such as regular visiting with their children or completing court-mandated services within the timeframe established by child welfare and Federal regulations such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The following resources provide strategies and best practices for promoting reunification and supporting visits between incarcerated parents and their children, including State and local examples.
Child Welfare Practice With Families Affected by Parental Incarceration.
Engaging Incarcerated Parents
Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition New York
Provides four recommendations for child welfare professionals working to engage incarcerated parents in casework, including allowing space for questions and understanding the family context beyond the incarceration experience.
Supporting Fathers and Families Impacted by Incarceration [Webinar]
National Responsible Father Clearinghouse (2017)
Offers tips on how fatherhood programs can work to improve outcomes for incarcerated fathers and their children and families and provides examples of programs that are helping fathers as they return to their communities after incarceration. The website includes links to webinar slides, a transcript, and additional related files.
When a Parent Is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers
Annie E. Casey Foundation (2011)
Provides recommendations for partnering with the criminal justice system to engage incarcerated parents to connect with their children and maintain their parental responsibilities.
General Visiting Information
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Provides information about the rules and procedures associated with setting up and conducting visits in Federal correctional facilities.
Guide for Incarcerated Parents Who Have Children in the Child Welfare System
Helps parents involved in the criminal justice system understand the child welfare system, maintain connections with their children, and understand steps required for reunification.
Helping Incarcerated Parents Plan for Visits From Children
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearing House (2018)
Provides recommendations, including checking dress code policies prior to visits and providing a warning in advance of the end of visits, that can help incarcerated parents maintain their connection with their children.
Parent-Child Visiting Practices in Prisons and Jails: A Synthesis of Research and Practice (PDF - 563 KB)
Cramer, Goff, Peterson, & Sandstrom (2017)
Describes what is known about parent-child visiting practices in prisons and jails and identifies best practices according to recent literature and subject-matter experts. The report also offers recommendations to advance research and practice in this area.
Supporting Communication for Families Impacted by Incarceration
National Child Abuse and Neglect Technical Assistance and Strategic Dissemination Center. Rutgers University--Camden. National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated. & United States. Children's Bureau. (2019)
Provides concrete tips for supporting effective visits and communication between an incarcerated parent and their child.
Visiting a Parent in Prison [Video]
Sesame Street in Communities
Presents a video that can be used by caregivers and professionals to explain to children what visiting an incarcerated parent may be like, including any rules that may apply and changes to the parent’s appearance.
Addressing the Needs of Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children in Illinois (PDF - 9,343 KB)
Dworsky, Fedock, Schlecht, Malcome, Murray, & Hazel (2020)
Chapel Hill at the University of Chicago
Describes the results of a project conducted to inform the development and implementation of policies and practices that address the needs of incarcerated mothers in Illinois and reduce the impact of incarceration on their children.
Practice Guidelines: Engaging Incarcerated Parents in Reunification Cases (PDF - 59 KB)
State of Arizona Department of Child Safety (2017)
Offers practice guidelines to help child welfare staff engage incarcerated parents in reunification efforts, including encouraging parent-child contact, learning about the family’s history and protective capacity, maintaining frequent contact, preparing children and their caregivers for visitation, and more.
Task Force on Children of Incarcerated Parents: Final Report and Recommendations (PDF - 989 KB)
State of Illinois Office of the Lieutenant Governor (2020)
Presents information about policies, procedures, and training that can support the well-being of children and youth who have parents in prison. Recommendations include developing a central hub to improve interagency collaboration, establishing visitation as a right, and developing consistent policies and procedures.
Assisting Families of Inmates
Describes a Virginia-based program that provides improved access to consistent visitation for incarcerated parents and their children via video visitation.
What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse
Council of State Governments (2021)
Summarizes the evidence base supporting commonly provided services designed to facilitate reentry after incarceration. Using resources to stabilize adults upon reentry can help them work toward their child welfare case plans.