California Health

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Get on the Bus Unites Kids with Prison Moms & Dads

A non-profit organization, Get on the Bus, invites caregivers and families to "Get on the Bus" for Mother's Day trips to see incarcerated moms, and Father's Day journeys to see dad. On the bus trip home following a four-hour visit, each child receives a teddy bear with a letter from their parent and post-event counseling.

Facts

  • An estimated 856,000 children in California have a parent currently involved in California's adult criminal justice system, nearly 9% of the state's children.
  • Approx. 200,000 have one parent in state prison, 97,000 have a parent in jail, and 564,000 have parents on parole or probation.
  • 60% of parents in state prison report being held over 100 miles from their children.
  • 54% of mothers and 57% of fathers in state prisons reported never having had a single visit from their children.
  • Children's odds of delinquency increase dramatically when visits with their incarcerated parent are denied.
  • Children who are allowed regular visits with their incarcerated parent demonstrate better emotional and social adjustment; they can be assured they are loved and that their parents have not abandoned them by choice.
  • Regular visits between children and their incarcerated parent lower rates of recidivism for the parent and improves family reunification following the parent's release.
     

Feelings and Emotions

When a family member, such as a mom or dad, goes to jail or prison, it may be very difficult for everyone involved. For some children, the experience can be emotionally devastating, while for others it is less serious. Sometimes it is a relief. The child's age, understanding of the situation, and the reaction of others, particularly of family Members, all play a part in the overall impact the experience will have on the child. Children may have different feelings, and sometimes even several feelings at once, or one right after the other. Some children might feel sadness, fear, guilt, disbelief, anxiety, anger, and/or powerlessness. It is important to help children understand and work through their feelings.

Children of incarcerated parents need:
To know that parent's incarceration is not their fault.
To know what is happening to their parent.
To know if they can have contact with their parent, and if so, when and how.
To know where and with whom they will be living and going to school.
To know what will stay the same and what will change while their parent is incarcerated.
To know it is OK to still love their parent, and it is OK to be angry sometimes, too.
To be encouraged to express, in safe and healthy ways, their feelings.
To visit and maintain contact with incarcerated parents when permitted and appropriate.
To have stability and consistency in their living situations and daily routines.
To feel safe.
To have fun.
To realize that people

Many people are ashamed to talk about having someone close to them in jail or prison. It may reassure children to tell them that:
1. Two of every 100 children have had a parent in jail or prison.
2. You didn't do anything wrong. People should not try to make you feel
guilty or ashamed.
3. Sometimes, it is easier not to talk about a parent who is incarcerated, but
you may never learn that there are plenty of other kids in the same
situation. Talking about it with people you trust may help.
4. It's OK to love your Mom or Dad who is in jail or prison, even if some
people don't think you should.

It is very important to provide children with a non-judgmental, relaxed, unhurried, and
safe place to express their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about why their parent was
incarcerated.

It is important to help children realize:
There are negative consequences when a parent breaks the law.
They are not responsible for either the parent's behavior or the consequences of
that behavior.

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