Engage Incarcerated Parents in Early Learning

Incarceration creates a physical barrier between an individual and their family. This can be particularly difficult for parents of young children. At Little Giants Preschool in Marion, Indiana, we have seen first-hand the impact this separation can have on the families we serve. That’s why we developed a program specifically to engage incarcerated parents in their child’s education.

With families’ permission, our team collect letters, cards, school work, and more from children to share by mail with their incarcerated parent. The parent can write letters back, which our staff read to children and share with the parent at home.

Benefits of the Incarcerated Parent Program

First, we send a letter to the parent or guardian at home about our Incarcerated Parent Program and seeking their permission to participate. The letter highlights the value the program brings children to be connected with their incarcerated parent. We share the following benefits:

  • Allows children to express their emotional reactions to the separation from their parent
  • Helps children develop a more realistic understanding of their parents’ circumstances and allows parents to model appropriate interaction
  • Allows children to maintain existing relationships with their parent
  • Helps children preserve important connections

Permission Slip Allows Parents to Choose

If the custodial parent agrees to participation in the program, they complete a permission slip. On this form, they indicate what content they are and are not comfortable with us sharing. For example, some parents are comfortable with letter writing, but not pictures. Some are comfortable having copies of schoolwork and report cards sent, while others are not. We let each parent choose what’s best for their family.

We specifically ask the parent to share insights on their child’s understanding of the situation. This helps us to ensure communication with the child around the topic is consistent with their current knowledge.

Outreach and Resources

Finally, we reach out to the incarcerated parent with a letter from their child. We also offer to share additional resources to support their personal growth in everything from parenting skills to financial management and resume-writing.

While this program does take ongoing staff effort, it has been a critical addition to our Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (PFCE) programming. We are so thankful to we can help maintain a connection between our children and their incarcerated parents.

Kristi Hawkins is the community partnership coordinator at Little Giants Preschool in Marion, Indiana. She has graciously shared all of the resources her program created to facilitate this program, including template letters and forms for download and use.

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