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For the innocent children whose parents are in prison, the deck is stacked against them when they go to school. After parents are locked up, the majority of kids’ grade point averages fall—and the likelihood of their dropping out of school at some point rises.[1] Here are a few of the challenges they face:

  • Obstacles to Learning: Children of incarcerated parents go to school with a much higher risk of anxiety, nightmares, and depression. These barriers are huge obstacles to productive learning. Fears of mom or dad being locked in a cage, or persistent guilt caused by the imprisonment produce stigma and distress in children. They are 33% more likely to stutter, stammer, have ADHD, speech or language problems.
  • Trauma & Brain Development: 72% of students with parents behind bars suffer PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) that profoundly damages brain development and produces worsening cognitive outcomes.
  • Family Environment: The family and social environment of kids outside school is closely linked to how they perform inside the classroom. When a parent goes to prison, the family is destabilized, incomes goes down more than 25%, and kids are more likely to suffer turmoil, hunger and experience a lack of basic needs.
  • Chronic Stress: Children often are uprooted and shuffled to live with already-burdened and poor relatives. Kids who grow up with chronic stress from the result of poverty (child-family separation, crowding and poor housing quality) develop disrupted brain activity.
  • Dropping Out: When stress and emotional problems increase due to the above struggles, children do worse in school and their health deteriorates. Kids of incarcerated parents are far more likely to drop out of school or get expelled.[2] This education gap perpetuates the cycle of incarceration.

For thousands of Oklahoma’s kids, the impact of a parental incarceration presents huge challenges in their ability to learn and achieve in school.

As a community and a society, we can help close the gaps in education and provide the needed support to these children so they can learn and achieve. By investing in these children, they can fulfill the amazing potential that each of them possess. Through our help, these traumatized children can see themselves in a positive way and continue to keep a vital connection to their parents. We can change their outcomes now and in the future.

Become a partner with Oklahoma Messages Project through volunteering, donating, or sponsoring our events like our Outdoor Adventure Day on June 17, 2017.



[1] Melinda D. Anderson, The Atlantic, 1/16/17

[2] Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein, for the Economic Policy Institute