Now, a University of Missouri program hopes to break this cycle by providing parenting resources to incarcerated parents. MU’s ParentLink will place “Parenting Corners” in correctional facilities throughout Missouri and will give offenders an opportunity to have a bigger role in their children’s lives.
“ParentLink Parenting Corners are access points that will bring parenting information and support within an offender’s reach,” said Carol Mertensmeyer, program director of ParentLink. “Parental incarceration can have implications for children’s emotional, social and education success. Offenders have already reached out to us and asked questions about how to deal with their children’s abandonment issues, how to tell their children about incarceration, and how to help them rebuild and restore a healthy relationship with their children.”
ParentLink is part of the Missouri Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC), which promotes children’s achievement in school by providing information, resources, technical assistance and training to parents. Some of the themes included in Parenting Corners will be information about basic child development, legal issues, education, substance abuse and prevention, mental health, health and nutrition, and safety.
“Incarcerated parents face unique challenges because they do not live with their kids and may never get to see them,” said George Lombardi, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. “Incarcerated parents are often left out of decisions made in their children’s lives. By utilizing ParentLink resources, offenders can feel they have made an effort to help their children and feel like a parent despite being in a correctional facility. If they don’t have to worry about kids, they can focus on bettering themselves.”
The ParentLink Parenting Corner also will feature a drop-box where inmates can drop specific questions. The activity coordinator at the correctional facility will mail the questions to ParentLink staff who will respond to the inmates. The 23 parenting corners will be placed in the visiting rooms of Missouri correctional facilities. Inmates at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green will build the parenting corners.
“The ParentLink resources are a great asset to our offender population as well as to their own family members who come to visit them,” said Jeananne Markway, restorative justice re-entry coordinator for the Missouri Department of Corrections. “Not only can the family members take the brochures home with them, but also it allows them to talk about certain topics that might not be addressed otherwise.”
Lombardi would eventually like to see parenting corners in every Missouri correctional facility and parole office.
“Children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to be sentenced to jail time than other children.” Lombardi said. “ParentLink Parenting Corners are a long-term investment to help these children and their parents get the services they need. This is one step in breaking the cycle.”
The statewide ParentLink program is supported by the MU College of Education. For more information, visit http://Parentlink.missouri.edu.
Kelsey Jackson, JacksonKN@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353