Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

When a Parent Is in Prison

By Howard Zehr — April 13, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Approximately 3 million children in the United States have a parent in prison. Most teachers have these children in their classrooms. These young people face unique challenges that affect their classroom behavior and learning.

Many of them, often being raised by grandparents or foster parents, share the ache of separation that any child who doesn’t have regular contact with one or both parents experiences. Added to this are the particular pains of having parents in prison: shame and isolation; a sense of guilt for their parents’ condition; anger at their parents and others; and anxiety about themselves, their parents, and their caregivers. “We have to grow up fast,” the older children I’ve spoken to often say.

In a misplaced attempt to shield such children, caregivers often withhold the truth from them. As the children mature, they often suspect that something is wrong. And when the truth does come out, they experience a sense of betrayal and mistrust that affects their relationships and their view of the world.

Not surprisingly, many children who have one or both parents in prison have emotional, behavioral, and educational problems at a rate higher than other children. Many suffer from attachment disorders. All too often, this trauma is passed on to those around them and to future generations. Marie Scott is serving a life sentence. Her parents were in prison, as was her son. She calls this “intergenerational incarceration.”

Our book What Will Happen to Me? is intended to give voice and visibility to these often-forgotten children who are so profoundly affected by policies that do not take their needs into account. Rather than speak for them, my co-author Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to speak for themselves. We also wanted to provide suggestions for caregivers—grandparents, social workers, and teachers—who are responsible for these children.

In our interviews with these young people, we found that teachers played a significant role in their lives, both negatively and positively. When teachers were unaware of or insensitive to what was going on with these children, it compounded their sense of shame, isolation, and trauma. Teachers who were attentive to the needs of these students often played pivotal roles in their lives. Indeed, for some children, their teachers were their salvation.

We hope the messages of these photos and words will be helpful to those who are involved in these children’s lives.

A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as When a Parent Is in Prison

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Teacher, Students Sue Arkansas Over Ban on Critical Race Theory
A high school teacher and two students asked a federal judge to strike down the restrictions as unconstitutional.
2 min read
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. On Monday, March 25, 2024, a high school teacher and two students sued Arkansas over the state's ban on critical race theory and “indoctrination” in public schools, asking a federal judge to strike down the restrictions as unconstitutional.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark.
Andrew DeMillo/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion What March Madness Can Teach Schools About Equity
What if we modeled equity in action in K-12 classrooms after the resources provided to college student-athletes? asks Bettina L. Love.
3 min read
A young student is celebrated like a pro athlete for earning an A+!
Chris Kindred for Education Week
Equity & Diversity What's Permissible Under Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law? A New Legal Settlement Clarifies
The Florida department of education must send out a copy of the settlement agreement to school boards across the state.
4 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms under a settlement reached March 11, 2024 between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys who had challenged a state law which critics dubbed “Don't Say Gay.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms under a settlement reached March 11, 2024, between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys who had challenged the state's “Don't Say Gay” law.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Q&A The Lily Gladstone Effect: A Teacher Explains the Value of Indigenous Language Immersion
Students in the Browning public schools district in Montana engage in a Blackfoot language immersion program for all ages.
5 min read
Lily Gladstone arrives at the 96th Academy Awards Oscar nominees luncheon on Feb. 12, 2024, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Lily Gladstone arrives at the 96th Academy Awards Oscar nominees luncheon on Feb. 12, 2024, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Jordan Strauss/Invision via AP