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Olmsted County efforts underway to help children with incarcerated parents

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Having a parent incarcerated can be stressful for children and a collaborative effort is underway in Olmsted County to help them cope.

Olmsted County Associate Director of Public Health Dawn Beck is a child of an incarcerated parent. The effort is close to her heart. She had been working with the a state of Minnesota work group that included the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association. The work group focused on how to better help children of incarcerated parents. Now, efforts are being localized in Olmsted County.

Beck said having an incarcerated parent is stigmatized and misunderstood. Often, children do not tell people that their parents is in prison or jail. She said children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be bullied, struggle with depression and run away from home.

Beck said a Minnesota student survey in 2016 found that having a parent incarcerated was the top stressor for students. In 2019, it was the second stressor, just behind living with a parent struggling with mental illness.

"We can't fix it if we're not talking about it and people aren't aware of it," Beck said. "So it's about raising awareness and changing attitudes. This isn't about being soft on crime. It's about helping families stay intact, to stay resilient and helping their kids stay resilient while they are experiencing these situations in their life."

The efforts moving forward include parenting classes at the Adult Detention Center, regional workshops and helping educators learn how to better talk to students who are struggling. Beck said 23 percent of children of incarcerated parents in Olmsted County said they do not have a trusted adult in their life.

She urged adults to learn to be open to asking a struggling child what they need instead of what is wrong.

"We can't help them if we don't know and we aren't open to understanding what their needs are," Beck said.

According to The Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights developed by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, the rights of children of incarcerated parents are:

  • To be kept safe and informed at the time of their parent’s arrest.
  • To be heard when decisions are made about them.
  • To be considered when decisions are made about them.
  • To be well cared for in their parent’s absence.To support as they face their parent’s incarceration.
  • To speak with, see and touch their parent.
  • To not be judged, blamed or labeled because their parent is incarcerated.

The efforts are still in the early stages. Eventually, there will be more partnerships with organizations like The Boys & Girls Club of Rochester to build support for area children in these situations.

Megan Zemple

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