- Center for Young Women’s Development
- “What Will Happen to Me?”
- The New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents
Center for Young Women’s Development
The Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco is one of the first non-profits in the United States run and led entirely by young women. From the beginning, they have organized the most marginalized young women in San Francisco, those in the street economies and the juvenile justice system, to design and deliver peer-to-peer education and support. FCN sits down with Executive Director Marlene Sanchez to discuss CYWD’s unique approach, some of the keys to its successes, and how her own personal experiences have informed her passion for this work.
A Success Story
“When everyone else saw me as a menace, CYWD saw me as a stakeholder.”
Marlene Sanchez was the child of an incarcerated father. Because of this, she had to struggle with many emotions and was labeled a gang member before ever being in a gang. When she was an 11-year-old girl, she was in a fight at school and as a result was taken into county jail where police fingerprinted and took a mug shot of her. They wouldn’t even let her contact her father from Juvenile Hall because they wouldn’t believe that he was not an older boyfriend. At the time, Marlene didn’t find any part of this encounter to be abnormal.
In hindsight, she realizes how wrong that situation was. “It’s vital to think about how society responds to fights or other issues in schools and to reconsider our approach”, she says. “I never want any other 11 year old girl to have to go through the same thing I did”.
At the age of 15, Marlene was hired to do street outreach for the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, she was picked up and then badly beaten by police who said she was “tagging” (spray painting graffiti). When she went to work at the Center the next day, she told her questioning colleagues what happened. “I hadn’t thought it was a big deal,” she says, “but their reaction was an overwhelming, ‘No, this is NOT OK’”. The group then organized a protest in front of the police department protesting their treatment of Marlene. “This was a pivotal moment for me as a young woman,” she says, “it shifted the way I saw the things I had normalized in my community and proved to me that young women had the power to make change.”
Marlene continued working with CYWD where she had the opportunity to explore interests in doing work on health issues, in juvenile hall and prisons, and with political prisoners. Her personal experiences – coupled with the empowerment, skills, and opportunities provided by CYWD – informed her passion to make sure that young women in the street economies and in the juvenile justice system weren’t forgotten about – that someone would be there to look out for them and not just stand up for them, but stand up with them.
A Different Approach
CYWD targets women who are 16-24 years old. “CYWD answers first and foremost to the women we work with,” Marlene says. The program is a 9 month program – it is wrap-around and intensive, involving various components like mental health, massage, job readiness, critical thinking, political education, etc.
CYWD has found that to be successful in the community, they had to look for public and private youth-focused organization and city departments to partner with while narrowing their focus on the hardest to reach. “We get the girls who are sick and tired of being tired,” she says, “those to whom being in prison wasn’t an awakening experience.” CYWD has had a lot of success with repeat offenders. “It takes intensive work, so this population is an ideal target group for us to focus on”.
Marlene also notes that women who come to these types of programs are often seen as clients – people there to get a service. CYWD, on the other hand, is able to reach young women because they treat them differently – participants are seen as being there to actively define and contribute to their own goals, and CYWD is there to support and work with them as they do so. “There is already a stigma in the juvenile justice system where those involved are seen as unchangeable, the throw-aways of society, but this is not the case and CYWD knows this”. Marlene herself is an example of this fact. “When everyone else saw me as a menace, CYWD saw me as a stakeholder.”
Sisterhood and Lasting Connections
“Wherever young women are, that’s where we are.” This is something CYWD has consistently been known for. News about the program travels by word of mouth and young women are their best recruiters. Some young women come to CYWD because they want their participation in CYWD’s programs to serve as a fulfillment of court mandates. This can be an increased motivation toward their ongoing participation and completion of the program. If a young woman wants to get in, CYWD will fight to make that happen, but she will have to work harder than they do. Marlene says that that engagement from the beginning is something these women need (especially when substance abuse is a factor and detox is an issue). Self referral is one of the important reasons for CYWD’s sucess. “They picked us! Some young women are there because they said they wanted to be, and CYWD will hold them to that”. Marlene says that the fact they are paid to be there is also an incentive that they are held accountable for.
CYWD’s principals and values include social justice, sisterhood, self-determination, and self-value. “Sisterhood means that we hold each other accountable in a loving way that some of us are not used to … some do well and some aren’t ready (which is fine)”. Even if a young woman is there only one day, maybe that is all she needs. These women know the Center has an open door policy and they can always come back. “Women can steal from here and come back 3 years later and be received with open arms, even women who punched doors and were asked to leave can come back,” Marlene says, “We realize that right now might not be a good time, but we’re here when you’re ready.”
Marlene says that opportunities for young women to form connections with each other can be hard to come by, but these connections are “so important to their empowerment. The point is that these challenges and issues are not isolated, and these women need to know they are not alone”. CYWD provides opportunities for women to engage in leadership programs and to form these bonds with other women because “such a big part of their success comes from feeling connected by building self-esteem and relationships.” Participants get to see that there are commonalities – for example, between African American and Latina women, who may have been pinned against each in the past. Instead, CYWD focuses on their commonalities and the power that can be created when women come together.
The Issues that Need Even More Attention
Marlene cites the lack of focus on young women who are pregnant or parenting in the juvenile justice system as one of the issues that doesn’t get enough attention. “There’s really a lack of comprehensive education around health, sex, and parenting. It’s hard because such a high percentage of women are finding out they’re pregnant for the first time or even having gynecological care for the first time when in lock-up.” The first pap-smear Marlene ever had was as a teen, while shackled, in lock-up.
One of the things CYWD is doing about this is working on the Incarcerated Young Mother’s Bill of Rights. It addresses issues such as the discrimination met by mothers who have been involved in the criminal justice system, as well as the lack of information these mothers receive about their rights as parents. There is also a lack of appropriate placement for young pregnant women and mothers. “Policies are coming down to affect pregnant or parenting young women in detention that affect their choices”, Marlene says. For example, whether or not to have an abortion or give their child up for adoption are the only choices in many programs. CYWD wants these young women to have the power to make their own choices and know that the cycle can end with them.
CYWD also has a strong focus on LGBQ issues of young women in the system. 50% of the women in CYWD’s programs identify as lesbian. Marlene says this is likely because these young women feel comfortable and safe being “out” at CYWD.
More Success Stories
Marlene has many examples, in addition to her own, of how CYWD has help reverse the cycle – of girls from the system or streets who became involved in and then transformed through their involvement with the program. A few stand out.
A girl of 16 was on a track where she likely wasn’t even going to graduate high school. She completed CYWD’s Sisters Rising program and then went on to do more work with the organization. This included trainings on facilitation for staff and coalition work involving a trip across the country to New York City uniting young women on these issues. After that, she became a Senior Organizer for CYWD before moving on to a Program Associate, and then a Program Coordinator. She is now 20 years old, and in addition to working full-time she is attending college and has her own apartment.
Another young woman was involved in Mothers United and completed the Sisters Rising program. She had a spark of activism in her from the beginning and now is part of the Coalition Against Police Brutality. She has already had lasting impacts – when she had just turned 18 and had a baby, she lived in a group home where she was mistreated – she was instrumental in having it shut down.
CYWD continues to see the fruit of all their work. For example, someone involved in the program some time ago has spoken in front of congress and is now going to law school.
Marlene, herself, is a continuing success story. Among her accomplishment include the recipient of the Harold Atkins award for ending cycles of incarceration presented to her at Centerforce’s 10th Annual Summit in 2009. She also received the Unsung Hero award in 2005 from the Dali Lama. She has two boys, 10 and 3.
This work takes a lot of investment. “It’s not enough to give these women leadership skills,” Marlene says, “we must also create opportunities for young women to utilize these skills.” In addition, it is crucial to build community and sisterhood with a group of young women who’ve not had that traditional family support (for example, having come from a family torn apart because of incarceration). “These women can become whatever they want to with the right support.”
For More About CYWD …
… their various programs, their unique approach and successes, and resources, visit them online at: www.cywd.org, or contact them via mail or phone:
The Center for Young Women’s Development
832 Folsom Street Suite 700 San Francisco, CA 94107
(415)703-8800 ext 1001
Other Programs Like CYWD
Marlene was eager to give exposure to other program like CYWD, she cites:
- GEMS (Girls Educational and Monitoring Service) in New York City: http://www.gems-girls.org/
- Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago, IL: http://youarepriceless.org/
- Young Women United in Albuquerque, New Mexico: http://www.youngwomenunited.org/
- Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective: http://www.brooklynyoungmotherscollective.org/
- Freedom Incorporated in Madison, Wisconsin: http://www.myspace.com/freedomincorporated
A Final Note
CYWD is currently actively recruiting Board Members. Women of any age across the U.S. who want to be involved are asked to contact CYWD. They are especially in search of people with skills around financial management and literacy, organizational development, evaluation, research, and policy.
“What Will Happen to Me?”
What Will Happen to Me is a remarkable photo-textual book about children of the incarcerated and their caregivers, with portraits by Howard Zehr and interviews with children conducted by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz.
Howard Zehr and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, professors at Eastern Mennonite University, have created a remarkable photo-textual book of children of the incarcerated and their caregivers.Howard Zehr (‘grandfather of restorative justice’ and an internationally renowned photographer) provided the beautiful portraits, and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz (social worker and restorative justice mediator) provided the text from interviews she conducted with the children.
With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Howard and Lorraine traveled the nation, photographing the children and caregivers, interviewing the children, and now giving us an opportunity to know these families in such a direct and wonderful way. Additionally, they have written on the role of restorative justice and reconciliation processes in the pursuit of family justice in a compelling and gentle way that should guide us all.
The publisher, Good Books, is offering a pre-ordering opportunity that if a sufficient volume of pre-orders were to come in, would greatly reduce the cost of the books, and further, would permit the inclusion of the ordering organization on the back of the book. The books can be resold at a profit, if desired (for example, as a fundraiser), but cannot be resold to a retail bookstore. Their goal is to place this book in the hands of families, parents inside, providers, policy makers, and funders, with the hopes of making all of us more aware of these children and families among us, and how they must cope with stigma, shame, and loss of contact.
If you wish to order, or have questions, please contact Dee Ann Newell at 501-366-3647 or email@example.com. The pre-order deadline is January 31, 2010, but we would love to hear sooner in order to determine the volume of orders, thus the costs to you.
Downloads available from the book:
- Children of Prisoners (Book Cover) (PDF)
- Six Simple Steps to Participate in Coalition (PDF)
- Coalition Proposal for Utilizing “What Will Happen to Me?” (PDF)
Raising awareness, promoting policy and practice change, and building partnerships to uphold the rights, maintain the relationships, and meet the needs of children impacted by their parent’s criminal justice involvement.
The NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents was launched by The Osborne Association (NY, NY) in 2005 to raise awareness about and safeguard the well-being of children whose parents are incarcerated. By bringing together City and State agencies and community-based organizations, the Initiative works to reform policies, implement promising practices and positively impact the lives of children affected by their parent’s criminal justice involvement. The Initiative uses the framework of the Children’s Bill of Rights (developed by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, www.sfcipp.org) to address the continuum of criminal justice involvement from a child’s perspective, from arrest to reentry, and supports the maintenance of a lifelong relationship between parent and child. New York, NY Tanya Krupat Program Director firstname.lastname@example.org 718-637-6560
- Initiative Overview (PDF)
- Recommendations for the Advisory Board to the New York State Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Regarding Children/Youth of Incarcerated Parents (PDF)
- S.U.N. Shine Newsletter, February 2009 (PDF)
The NY Initiative has several policy reform goals which are consistent with the Children’s Bill of Rights and the roadmap for criminal justice system reform which it represents. These are: • To implement a child-sensitive arrest protocol in NY State, consistent with best practices nationally, which minimizes the trauma and harm children experience when a parent is arrested. • To ensure that children and families are considered during the sentencing process by including a Family Impact Statement among the factors considered. • To improve children’s access to their parents through visiting, phone calls and letters and other creative mechanisms that support the strengthening of the parent-child relationship. This includes considering proximity to children as a criteria for prison assignment. • To increase the programs available for both children and incarcerated parents which support their relationship and minimize the harm that can result from parent-child separation. • To increase the data and information available about children of incarcerated parents in order to better meet their needs and inform the policies and practices of agencies and organizations who come into contact with children and families. • To increase the support available for caregivers in the community, including implementing Subsidized Guardianship in NY State. • To infuse the agendas, policies and practices of government agencies and community-based organizations with an awareness and consideration of the needs and experiences of children of incarcerated parents. • To build professional capacity around this issue so diverse professionals across fields have a core competency/minimum fluency regarding the impact of parental incarceration on children and families.
In the area of ARREST policies in New York City, we: • Examined and wrote a summary of national child-sensitive arrest policies • Conducted two focus groups with parents who had been arrested and wrote a report based on these • Worked closely with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office who worked with Brooklyn NYPD to implement training re: asking about children at various points at and following arrest. • Met with Citywide Police Department Chief • Wrote letter to Police Commissioner Kelly • Working to offer supportive information and resources to families post-arrest through Citywide information hotline
92% of parents in prison are fathers; 8% are mothers. The number of children with an incarcerated mother has more than doubled since 1991.
In the area of VISITING and other forms of contact, we: • Coordinate 2 site visits per year to model Children’s Centers and Visiting Programs in NY State (at Sing Sing and Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities) which are attended by diverse professionals. • Hosted a teleconference presentation of model visiting programs in New Mexico and Tennessee. • Wrote Televisiting Guidelines that were provided to the State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). • In partnership with NYC DOC, provide coloring books and crayons to city-sentenced fathers/ grandfathers/ uncles/ brothers when children come to visit them. • Conducted brief training of about 40 Corrections Officers at Riker’s (they receive about 1000-1500 visitors a day and are a visitors first point of contact). Training focused on the importance of visiting for children and of positive Officer-child interactions. • With the Incarcerated Mothers Committee of the Coalition for Women Prisoners (at the Correctional Association), advocated for a Family Reunion Program at Albion that was included in the 2009 State budget. • Launched our “HUB Near Home” campaign to raise awareness of the impact of incarcerating parents so far from their children and to advocate for proximity to children to be considered as a criteria for prison assignment, after security and medical needs. In the area of DATA COLLECTION and RESEARCH, we: • Examined existing data on children of incarcerated parents, including its absence in national and local child well-being surveys/ measures. • Conducted a Families Count Survey within a men’s and women’s prison and received close to 800 responses back from parents providing rich information about their children. • Worked with our Statewide Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to collect new data in some of its residential programs to identify, for the first time, which youth have incarcerated parents. • Discussed with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), NYC’s child welfare agency, the addition of a question in their database to identify children whose parents are incarcerated. To date, there is no way to gather this information. • Contacted Christopher Mumola at the Bureau of Justice Statistics and author of the frequently cited report, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children (2001). He has been helpful in sharing his national data collection experience and in advising the Workgroup’s efforts. • The NYU Wagner School of Public Administration students completed their report, “A Case for Counting and Tracking Children of Promise” in which they interviewed many City and State agency representatives, national experts and others to make recommendations for sensitively identifying and collecting information about children of incarcerated parents. The report’s recommendations emphasize services and support (and agency accountability) as the guiding reasons to collect this currently unknown information. • Met with the Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) who interview every arrested person in NYC to discuss adding questions about the arrestee’s children. CJA open to considering doing a snapshot sample with additional questions about children that would not be part of their interview but would provide a wealth of data about a little known topic—the children of arrestees. • Proposed to the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet that children of incarcerated parents be included in the issues under “disconnected youth” that they examine, and as a result, a Subcommittee made up of diverse State agencies has been formed to examine this issue at a Statewide level and make recommendations to the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. • Working with a State level agency to conduct focus groups with youth and caregivers to inform the annual Kids Count well-being survey conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In the area of YOUTH EMPOWERMENT and LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, we: • Recruited a small group of young people whose parents are incarcerated to participate on the Youth Advisory Board (YAB). • YAB members participated in local and national conferences including New York City’s Sharing Success conference and the national conference of the Child Welfare League of America. • Three YAB members were interviewed on WBAI radio show, “On the Count,” with radio host Eddie Ellis. The show focused on the impact of incarceration on children and families. • Trained Guidance Counselors at middle school in the Bronx. • Presented as part of national Bill of Rights teleconference training. • Plan to conduct more outreach to youth organizations and train youth service providers. • Built a partnership with the CUY School of Journalism to offer media workshops to the YAB.
Less than half of all parents (42%) in State prison reported having a visit with their children since admission.
1. Separation from a parent is always traumatic. This is true even if it occurs when the child/ youth is older; even if the child/ youth says it doesn’t matter; even if he/she appears to be thriving. This is true even when the parent removed or now absent was harming the child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parent-child separation, and other “emotional and cognitive disruptions” particularly in young children, “have the potential to impair brain development.” New brain studies have also demonstrated the impact of trauma on brain development. The impact of this trauma—particularly if it is silenced and/ or suppressed, i.e., unaddressed—can be carried into youth and adulthood. 2. Incarceration is not genetic. Although children of incarcerated parents are usually spoken of in terms of their own increased risk for entering the juvenile or criminal justice systems (the “apple doesn’t fall from the tree” theory), there is in fact “no solid evidence” for this assertion. 3. Many and varied experiences. How children/ youth are affected by parental incarceration varies widely- there is no single experience or response. Some of the significant factors that can affect the impact of parental incarceration are: a. prior relationship with parent; b. age and developmental level at time of arrest and incarceration; c. how the adults/ caregivers in their lives respond; d. the level of support and self-affirmation they receive; e. the attitude (positive or negative) toward their parents; and f. the level of openness and contact they are able to maintain with their parent. 4. Cumulative stressors: Many children/ youth with incarcerated parents have also often experienced numerous other stressors—parental substance abuse, poverty, multiple living arrangements/ instability, sometimes entering foster care—prior to their parent’s incarceration and so the effect of a particular stressor (parental incarceration) is difficult to tease out. 5. Children/ youth with incarcerated parents are like other youth. They experience some of the same emotions and challenges as children separated from their parents due to other factors—parental illness, foster care placement, military deployment. These emotional responses can include sadness, confusion, anger, abandonment, grief, distrust, loneliness, self-blame, searching. They also need the same resources and support that all youth need to fulfill their potential. 6. Children/ youth with incarcerated parents are different from other youth. The stigma a parent’s incarceration brings distinguishes a young person’s experience and makes this loss particularly complicated. The recognition of loss, the support and social rituals surrounding some other forms of parental absence and loss do not accompany children who lose their parent to incarceration, nor their families. The stigma experienced can be both personal and institutional (from agencies, providers policies, and systems). 7. Stigma can lead to lies from adults. In the interest of protecting children from the stigma and “guilt by association,” adults—even trained professionals—may lie to children/ youth about their parent’s whereabouts. This deceitfulness usually is discovered and damages trust. Young people who have been hurt or feel betrayed can carry this distrustfulness with them, leading them to distrust service providers, family members, mentors and others. One study that examined this issue collected data from 54 children of incarcerated mothers, ages 2 to 7, found that, “children who were told about their mother’s incarceration in an open, honest and age-appropriate manner…were slightly more likely than other children in the study to have secure, positive perceptions of their caregivers.” (Poehlmann, 2005) 8. Visiting/ contact safeguards continuity of relationships and helps develop a young person’s sense of identity and belonging. While there are few studies that look at the impact of visiting and maintaining contact with parents for children, evidence from attachment theory research, divorce literature, work in the area of families separated by the military, and decades of children and young people telling us what they want and what was/ is helpful, support visiting and contact in the majority of cases. The therapeutic and lifetime value of visiting for youth– in all cases- should be recognized and explored.
For more information on the program or to find out how to get involved, contact: Tanya Krupat, Program Director, email@example.com or 718-637-6560.