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 parent education within the timeframe established by child welfare and by 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.
Addressing the Needs of Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children in Illinois (PDF - 9,120 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.
Children's Contact With Incarcerated Parents: Summary and Recommendations (PDF - 61 KB)
In Children's Contact With Incarcerated Parents: Implications for Policy and Intervention
Discusses important considerations when examining parent-child contact in prisons and jails and offers suggestions relating to changes in policies, procedures, and practices that may improve the experience for parents and children.
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Child Welfare Information Gateway
Download (PDF - 401KB)
Guide for Incarcerated Parents Who Have Children in the Child Welfare System (PDF - 613 KB)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation; HHS, Administration for Children and Families; & U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (2015)
Informs incarcerated parents about the child welfare system, what to do if your child is in the system, information on termination of parental rights, organizations that can support incarcerated parents, and more. The guide concludes with myth busters on termination of parental rights.
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated
Offers information and resources for service providers and families that focus on supporting children and families of incarcerated persons.
Parent-Child Visiting Practices in Prisons and Jails: A Synthesis of Research and Practice (PDF - 563 KB)
The Urban Institute (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 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.
Tip Sheet for Incarcerated Parents: Planning for a Visit from Your Child/Children (PDF - 158 KB)
Provides information on security, how to interact, questions to ask, ways to engage other than talking, things to consider after a visit, and more, when incarcerated parents are planning a visit from their child. Also available is a tip sheet for prison and jail staff and volunteers on how to support families and children who are visiting a parent in prison or jail.
When a Parent is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers and Foster Parents
Fostering Perspectives (2015)
Provides information for social workers and foster parents on how to maintain a relationship when parents are in jail or prison. The website includes information on visiting and tips for how to make visitation with incarcerated parents as successful as possible.
Episode 5: Working With the Correctional System and Incarcerated Parents [Podcast]
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2016)
Describes how child welfare professionals can work with incarcerated parents and the correctional system. The podcast includes a discussion of what to know when sending correspondence to someone who is incarcerated, how to coordinate parent-child visits, and more.
Child and Family Visitation Best Practice Guide (PDF - 793 KB)
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (2015)
Outlines visitation guidelines and recommendations for children and families visiting a parent in prison or jail. The document includes information on the benefits of visitation for families, best practices for visiting, who should be included in visits, frequency of visitation, and more.
Practice Guidelines: Engaging Incarcerated Parents in Reunification Cases (PDF - 59 KB)
State of Arizona Department of Child Safety (2017)
Offers practice guidelines to child welfare staff for engaging 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.
Toolkit for Developing Family-Focused Jail Programs (PDF - 271 KB)
The Urban Institute (2015)
Highlights successful family-focused jail programs and provides recommendations on how to develop them. The programs include components such as parenting classes, parent-child contact visits, and phone calls during which parents are coached by staff members on how to best connect with their children. Family-focused jail programs can help minimize the trauma these children face.
Video Visiting in Corrections: Benefits, Limitations, and Implementation Considerations (PDF - 3,041 KB)
U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections (2014)
Discusses video visitation programs within prisons and jails and includes a section on video visits for children. The guide provides information about benefits and challenges of video visiting and describes best practices and recommendations for the future.
Visiting Mom: A Pilot Evaluation of a Prison-Based Visiting Program Serving Incarcerated Mothers and Their Minor Children (PDF - 196 KB)
Schubert, Duininck, and Shlafer (2016)
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 55(4)
Describes an evaluation of a prison visitation program, Extended Visiting, for incarcerated mothers and their children. Participating mothers identified benefits including maintaining a relationship with their children, physical contact, motivation, and personal growth. Caregivers also appreciated the program.