For those of you who have been following the developments of Give Something Back (and there’s been a lot of development!), you may have heard me remark that as we select students for our college scholarship program, we are giving special consideration to those who have an incarcerated parent — a large yet often voiceless group of kids.
There are an estimated 2.7 million children in the United States who have a parent in jail, and about 10 million kids endure losing a parent to incarceration during their lifetimes, according to the Pew Research Center.
I mention in my book, Working Class to College, that while precise statistics on the well-being of these children are difficult to pin down, experts note that kids with a parent in jail — or parents who are unable to care for them — face obstacles that are often more severe than those who lose a parent to death or divorce. Besides experiencing the trauma of an arrest — many parents are handcuffed in the presence of their children — these kids typically endure financial struggle, a lack of guidance, a measure of stigma and a sense of shame.
My own father, a man I remember being filled with rage and whiskey, spent time behind bars in at least two states, although I was not a child at home at the time.
These are kids who haven’t done anything wrong. They are simply victims of their parents’ actions and circumstances.
Not surprisingly, growing up with an incarcerated parent can take a toll on a kid’s future. Among children with an incarcerated father, as few as 13 percent will graduate from any kind of college, according to a 2013 report by the American Bar Association and the White House. For kids with a mother behind bars, the report found, the rate of college graduation is between 1 and 2 percent. We don’t know of a group of American children with less of a chance to graduate from college due to no fault of their own.
At Give Back, we believe strongly that education is the primary key to lifting kids out of bad situations, which is why we are devoting significant resources to helping children whose parents are or have been behind bars.
To help send some of these kids to college, we’ve partnered with the Osborne Association, an organization that works with incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people, their children and families. This fall, two Osborne students are going to Mercy College, our first partner college in New York state.
In addition, our scholarships are helping 14 children of incarcerated parents attend college this year through our New Jersey program. Six of these students will be starting at Rowan College at Gloucester County and eight are going to Rowan University. One of these remarkable students was honored as valedictorian of her high school.
I’m grateful and excited to be able to give these kids the opportunity to transform their lives. We want to give them hope — hope that life will get better. Hope that they can dream, and that their dreams can come true.
Just as mine did.