Children who have a parent in jail or prison often learn the many nuances of the phrase "guilty by association" the hard way."These children have to deal with the stigma of having a parent in jail on many different fronts," says Marcy Douglass, assistant professor in the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel. "For instance, if something goes missing in their classroom at school, assumptions are often made."
But even those assumptions that steer clear of questioning the child's character can do damage. "These kids don't want people to label them, but even teachers can think of them in a certain way," says Danielle Schultz, a school counselor at Camp Curtin Elementary School in the Harrisburg (Pa.) School District. "People try to pigeonhole them as at-risk kids. That frustrates me because they also have so many positives and strengths.
"In addition, policies and practices meant to punish criminal offenders often end up claiming their children as collateral damage, says Elisabeth Bennett, associate professor and chair of the Gonzaga University Department of Counselor Education.
"Even though we now know more about how important clear attachments are for children, rates of visitation are dropping," says Bennett, explaining that geographic proximity is often a major barrier to visitation. "As a society, we tend to think that prisoners should have as miserable a time as possible, so they shouldn't be allowed to see their children. Maybe the person deserves that, but the question is, does the child deserve it?"Bennett, a member of the American Counseling Association, says it's also common for children to assume a certain level of guilt for a parent's incarceration. "The child often sees the parent's crime, especially in cases of domestic abuse or drug use, and witnesses the parent being removed from the home [by law enforcement]. In many cases, the child feels responsible for getting things back to the way they were. The kid often feels a huge amount of guilt for what has happened, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. Regardless, as the child, you're left to deal with the destruction once the parent is incarcerated."
Counseling Today OnlineJonathan Rollins, editor-in-chief of Counseling Today.http://www.counseling.org/Publications/CounselingTodayArticles.aspx?AGuid=ffa93d03-3f4a-4be2-aa87-5ca4a6e6c1e6