State program aims to better connect children with incarcerated adults

With a recent survey showing about 1 in 5 kids in Greater Minnesota have or once had a parent or guardian in jail or prison, the Minnesota Department of Health, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, six county jails and others are joining together to help children of incarcerated parents maintain ties. 

The University of Minnesota says children with an incarcerated parent are at an increased risk of illness, poor mental health, substance abuse and poor academic outcomes. Conversely, parents and children staying connected during incarceration can reduce some of those risks. 

"Given what we know about the health benefits of keeping families connected while parents are incarcerated, it’s heartening to see public health and the justice system coming together in these successful pilots to support and help families with an incarcerated parent," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham said in a press release.

The Minnesota Model Jail Practices Learning Community was formed, and with the cooperation of staff at six jails in Greater Minnesota, the aim of the community is to support parent-child relationships, increase child well-being, reduce recidivism and improve public safety through: 

  • Implementing a common set of intake questions.
  • Supporting reduced-cost or free video visits for parents to talk with their children.
  • Supporting increased access to in-person visiting opportunities in some cases.
  • Implementing parenting education programs in the jail, local prison and substance abuse treatment facilities.
  • Connecting incarcerated parents and caregivers to community resources such as Family Home Visiting and Help Me Connect.
  • Inviting schools to host support groups for children who have experienced parental incarceration.
  • Strengthening relationships between jails and child protection to better support families involved in both systems.

MDH also says a budget proposal from Gov. Tim Walz would help expand the program to more counties.