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Incarcerated Parents and Their Children Gain Attention

The content below may contain dated material as it was prepared for the media in advance of Pittsburgh’s hosting of the G20 in March 2010.  

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), the Allegheny County Jail, Allegheny County Adult and Juvenile Probation, Allegheny County Correctional Health Services Inc., the Pittsburgh Youth Study team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation and others have worked hand-in-hand to identify areas in need of improvement and to relieve some of the strain on children associated with their parental relationship being disrupted by incarceration. Reports issued by the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation and DHS, reflecting local research, detail many areas that raise significant concerns.

Several changes have already taken place in response to the results of the research. 

  • Systems Advocate – A Systems Advocate was hired in 2006 to address the needs and best interest of children of incarcerated parents through policy reform. The Advocate works with multiple county agencies, police departments, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, judges, service providers, community programs, and jail personnel to critically examine current policy and stimulate substantive changes aimed at mitigating the negative consequences of incarceration on children and their families. 
  • Family Activity Center – The area where children await a visit with their incarcerated parent has been made much more user friendly. The Family Activity Center is outfitted with colorful and comfortable furnishings, supplied with games and activities and staffed with professionals and volunteers who assist caregivers and children prior to visits.
  • Best-Practices Arrest Protocol – Research indicated that the trauma experienced by children who witness the arrest of their parent often has long-term effects. Efforts by stakeholders have resulted in a protocol that details how law enforcement officials identify and handle arrest situations when there is a child present. Trainings have been conducted.
  • The Director’s Action Line has been available since 1998 to register complaints or answer question and concerns posed by any County resident or interested party about any service provided through or by DHS. Beginning in July 2009, DAL Specialists began making bi-monthly visits to the Allegheny County Jail to attend pre-scheduled meetings with individual inmates who have active child-welfare cases to resolve issues concerning their children.

Other changes are planned for the near future. 

  • Handbook for Incarcerated Parents – A committee of professionals who work directly with parents who are incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail is charged with developing a handbook that answers parent’s Frequently Asked Questions concerning how to help them retain or regain custody of their child(ren) during/after incarceration.