Reading the news can be very depressing especially when all you read about are the eye catching headlines of questionable politics, international conflicts, and domestic criminal behaviours. At which point we might shake our heads and often think or say to ourselves “What is our world coming to?” We read with intrigue about the crimes, we read about the criminals and we read sympathetically about the victims. But all too often we forget that there is even another side to the stories we hear and read about. There are other people in the background who are directly affected by the crime and who we read nothing about...the children of the perpetrators.
Have you ever wondered what happens when a parent of a child goes to jail? Without fail, when a parent goes to jail the entire family suffers! It is probably needless to say but the care giving spouses are then left to handle the pressures of life all alone, taking care of the bills, the groceries, the rent, the jobs, the teachers and the schools you name it! The children, if they are still in the picture, must go without the presence of the incarcerated parent and the attention of the care giving parent.
Research studies show that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to end up in prison themselves. The Elizabeth Fry Society recently noted that 33% of incarcerated individuals had a parent who was also incarcerated when they were children. And 59% had another family member incarcerated. (Gabel & Johnston 1995) So how can we help break the cycle that sees children repeating the behaviours that they see their parents doing?
I am forced to admit that I cannot find the number of children in Canada who presently have an incarcerated parent...what I do know is that every month chaplains in the Canadian prison system are sitting down and speaking to young fathers and mothers of one or more children. By the way, if we can compare our own situation to that of south of the border...the U.S. has statistics that reveal that “more than 1.7 million children (under the age of 18) in America have a parent in prison.”
Through no fault of their own, these children are also forced to serve "hard time" while they are separated from their parents, regardless if it is their mom and/or their dad. The key point being IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! Yet they are forced to pay the price.
And as a result, you can almost guess what happens next...these children will often have behavior and performance problems at school. Not only academically they will also experience the social stigma and shame of having a parent in prison. And therefore, they stand a good chance to repeating the behaviours of their parents.
So why are children of incarcerated parents a subject for an article? Prison Fellowship, Canada, an organization committed to working with those impacted by crime, both those who commit a crime and those are affected by crime, report that it is important for children to keep connected with their parents who are incarcerated. Studies show that keeping children connected to their parent, though incarcerated, lowers the likelihood of their parent’s criminal relapse. Not only is there a benefit for the parent but it also encourages a “parent-child bonding that can ease the sadness a child feels from the separation...and it improves the likelihood of breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime.”
So, on that basis, this Christmas, in partnership with Prison Fellowship, Canada, Fellowship Baptist Church, Burford and the Burford Community Food Bank will be participating in the “Angel Tree” program. You may wonder what “Angel Tree” all about?
Prison Fellowship, Canada works with prison chaplain’s across the country who agree to their facility participating in the “Angel Tree” program. Chaplains report that many inmates deeply desire for their
children not to repeat what they have done. So, these inmates, sincerely wanting to break the cycle, will apply to be involved with “Angel Tree”. The Prison chaplains will then review applications for the program from inmates who request that their children participate and they check to make sure there are no other restrictions prohibiting an inmates’ participation.
This is where the Burford Community Food Bank comes in. The Burford Food Bank has been given the very simple opportunity to provide Christmas gifts for a few of these children of incarcerated parents and deliver them on behalf of the parents in prison. The gift does not have our name on it... because it really comes from the parent.
So imagine Christmas morning when that child who thinks that they have been forgotten by their parent actually gets a gift with their parent’s name on it? It may seem like a small thing in our eyes...but for the parent and for the child it goes a long way for them to see the love of a caring community like Burford.
This is just a small taste of the love of Christ that a child can experience in the coming season of Christmas...celebrating the greatest Gift ever given. Do you have thoughts on this issue? I want to hear them. Please feel free to contact me (Pastor David) at www.fellowshipburford.weebly.com .