MOVING BEYOND GENERALIZATIONS AND STEREOTYPES TO DEVELOP INDIVIDUALIZED APPROACHES FOR WORKING WITH FAMILIES AFFECTED BY PARENTAL INCARCERATION

Authors


pgenty@law.columbia.edu

Abstract

Competing narratives about incarcerated parents and their children are provided by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (“ASFA”) and the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights (“Bill of Rights”). Both the “child-at-risk” narrative of ASFA and the “good mother” narrative of the Bill of Rights are stereotyped and oversimplified and contribute, in opposite ways, to misperceptions about incarcerated parents and their children by suggesting a uniformity of situations and appropriate responses that does not actually exist. The time-driven approach of ASFA—and many state termination of parental rights statutes—is overly rigid, while the Bill of Rights overlooks important differences among families, as well as tensions and trade-offs among policy choices. In actuality, the situations of the parents and children involved vary widely and defy easy analysis and solutions. We should therefore be taking an individualized, qualitative approach that is nuanced and based on actual information about incarcerated parents and their children, rather than a quantitative, categorical approach based on generalized and simplistic assumptions. Only if we recognize and grapple with the complexities of parental incarceration can we develop sound legal and social policy to meet the needs of these families.

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