About this time last year, 10-yr old TJ had been gifted a wall calendar for Christmas. It was the only gift he’d asked for as he needed it to mark off the days until he saw his dad again.
TJ’s father had just been sentenced to eleven months in prison on three charges. His mother told him the time would pass quickly and he could visit his dad during school holidays.
However it wouldn’t be long before both TJ’s parents decided that the 5-hr round trip and the emotional turmoil he felt whenever he visited his dad was too much for him to cope with. So they decided to stop visitation and TJ didn’t fight them on it. His performance at school started to drop and he frequently complained of being sick and asked to stay home. When he did attend school, he found himself getting into fights with his peers. About three months into his dad’s incarceration, the school counsellor recommended that TJ join the KidsXpress therapy program.
Although each case is unique and each child responds differently, research has established that a parent’s incarceration poses several threats to a child’s emotional, physical, educational, and financial well-being. There is particular concern that a parent’s imprisonment will lead to a cycle of intergenerational criminal behaviour. One statistic indicates that children of incarcerated parents are, on average, six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves.
Parental incarceration is considered an adverse childhood experience and has been shown to be predictive of trauma development. Many, if not all, children affected by parental incarceration experience the depression, functional and cognitive impairments, anxiety, and disruptive, antisocial, and externalizing behaviours that are each symptoms of trauma. These risk factors are compounded by a variety of other racial, structural, and environmental risk factors that are likely correlated with parental incarceration, which in and of themselves, expose children to risk for trauma-related symptomology.
TJ had been depicting a lot of these symptoms and it was vital that he receive therapeutic intervention early. The treatment goal for TJ was to help him recognise his trauma symptoms, express his emotions and teach him effective coping mechanisms necessary to manage overwhelming feelings.
TJ completed 11 sessions in an individual setting. He completed a further 8 sessions as part of a group therapy setting where he discovered he wasn’t the only student at his school who has a parent in jail. This immediately made him feel less isolated and removed some of the shame he’d reportedly been experiencing. TJ’s mother and teacher reported a significant improvement in his behaviour and overall sense of wellbeing.
TJ’s dad is due home very soon and he proudly told our team that he can’t wait to throw out his calendar as he no longer needs it. He also said that this Christmas, he’s going to be asking for some Robux gaming currency excitedly proclaiming, “I can’t wait to play with my dad as soon as he’s home.”
*At KidsXpress we respect the privacy of the children and families we support. So while their stories are true, stock images of children have been used and client names have been changed.