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    Understanding the Impact of Paternal Incarceration on Children’s Schooling

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    anna haskins

    Anna R. Haskins Photo Credit: Twitter @sealvarado_

    Parents play an important role in their children’s lives, and parental involvement in elementary schooling especially affects children’s welfare. An impressive body of scholarship suggests that children’s health, development, and economic fortunes suffer in many ways if their parents serve time in jail or prison. Because the number of school-aged children in the United States with currently or formerly incarcerated parents sits at record levels, there is a clear need to better understand how mass incarceration furthers inequality and exclusion across generations. This includes unravelling the precise links among families, schools, and the criminal justice system.

    Schools are conduit institutions that offer access to resources and avenues of economic mobility and social integration. In addition, schools do surveillance by keeping formal records and making direct connections to other public agencies – including the police. Formerly incarcerated parents may be wary of such school functions, making them reluctant to engage fully with their children’s schools. Our new study indicates that paternal incarceration is indeed a unique marker of disadvantage. Both incarcerated fathers and children’s primary caregivers have reduced involvement in children’s education at home and at school– and fears about surveillance held by previously incarcerated fathers help to explain this reduced involvement.

    Why Parent Involvement in Schooling Matters

    Parental involvement in schooling encompasses actions fathers, mothers, and other primary caregivers take at home or at school to promote their children’s learning and convey educational expectations. Home-based involvement includes efforts such as helping with homework, reading with children, communicating expectations, and providing access to books and educational materials. School-based involvement can include visiting the school for conferences or events, participating in parent-teacher organizations, chaperoning field trips, and communicating with teachers and administrators.

    Parental involvement is known to boost children’s academic achievement and reduce the likelihood that pupils will drop out or have behavioral problems. Such involvement strengthens ties to school and enhances parents’ ability to advocate for their child, providing access to information networks integral to children’s success. By contrast, parents with lower levels of involvement – or who avoid schools altogether – reduce their children’s access to resources, information, and avenues of social integration. And such parents may convey feelings of institutional distrust.

    Understanding the Impact of Paternal Incarceration on School Involvement

    Assuming that fathers sent to prison or jail previously had some level of involvement with their children’s schools, scholars have theorized about reasons why they might withdraw from further involvements after release:

    • Work by the sociologist Sarah Brayne on “system avoidance” suggests that people who have been involved in the criminal justice system purposely avoid later engagement with surveilling institutions. Fathers who have served time may thus choose to refrain from activities that require interaction with the school, such as volunteering or attending parent-teacher conferences.
    • Criminal justice professor Sarah Lageson has explored how many parents “opt-out” of meaningful interactions with community institutions because of stigma or fear of having their online criminal records discovered by teachers, school officials, other parents, or their own children. Opting-out can occur preemptively because parents feel they will be barred from schooling activities such as volunteering – given that extensive background clearances are required in some states – or because previously incarcerated parents worry about stigma or embarrassment. In fact, opting-out can occur even if charges were minor or ultimately dismissed because online criminal records loom large in our digital world.

    Larger Implications and Possible Remedies

    Paternal incarceration, coupled with increased institutional surveillance, leads to lower levels of parental involvement in children’s schooling. This, in turn, undercuts children’s educational success and families’ ability to build trust with schools. As the number of young school-aged children with incarcerated parents grows, there may be strong, lasting, and negative consequences from this vicious cycle.

    The long-term prospects of children with current and formally incarcerated parents are likely tightly linked to the children’s schooling, yet teachers often interpret parental involvement as a sign of the value parents place in their child’s educational success. However, a father’s avoidance of his child’s school may not flow from lack of caring, but from fear of stigma or adverse consequences from his previous record. Similar processes can influence the behavior of other marginalized populations, such as undocumented parents who worry about apprehension when interacting with their children’s schools.

    Clearly, the country needs social policies that take into account the varied ways families, schools, and the criminal justice system interact. Untangling the secondary harmful effects of parental incarceration – including harms to children’s schooling – is necessary to prevent reproducing inequalities from one generation to the next. Research that helps educators and policymakers better understand issues that arise for children and families where a father has served time can help in the design of supportive measures.

    Research so far suggests that involvement by previously incarcerated fathers in their children’s schooling can be encouraged to the degree that parents come to understand schools as safe spaces. To the degree possible, schools need to avoid seeming like one more surveilling institution to families that have already experienced the stress of an imprisoned parent. Doing everything possible to increase parental involvement by the formerly incarcerated is important because such steps are likely to strengthen family-school partnerships and improve the chances for educational success for a growing segment of all American children.

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    Anna R. Haskins is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Cornell University. She studies processes and institutions that mitigate or exacerbate social inequalities, with a particular emphasis on better understanding the persistence of racial and class disparities in educational outcomes and the implications these have for later-life academic and labor market trajectories, in addition to the transmission of inequality across generations. Her current work explores the impact paternal incarceration has on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development during the early elementary years. Haskins is a former elementary school teacher.

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    How Social Workers Can Practice Trauma-Informed Care

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    Sponsored Article by Adelphi University

    Over the past few decades, there has been increasing recognition of the widespread and profound impact of trauma on individuals and communities. The results of an international mental health survey suggest that traumatic events have affected over 70 percent of the population, and can lead to prolonged physical and psychological harm.

    These findings have transformed the field of social work, shifting the focus of education and training onto practices that recognize, support, and empower survivors of trauma. Referred to as “trauma-informed care,” this framework is especially important for social work professionals who have a high likelihood of encountering people with a history of trauma in practice settings.

    Expanding the Definition of Trauma

    Trauma-informed care starts with an understanding of the intricacies of trauma, and how it impacts individuals and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

    For most people, the concept of trauma conjures up images of soldiers who have survived violent combat. Others may think about people who have been exposed to physical abuse, sexual assault or natural disasters. While these are some of the most distressing experiences that an individual can endure, trauma isn’t defined by an extreme event—it’s what the event means to the individual.

    Trauma-informed social workers must take the time to understand a person’s unique perception and response to an event, taking into account the complex layers of identity, power, and oppression that contribute to trauma. Adopting this framework, researchers have expanded the definition of trauma to include the following categories:

    • Complex trauma: The result of being exposed to repeated, ongoing, or simultaneous traumatic events, such as chronic neglect from a caregiver or long-term exposure to war conflict.
    • Intergenerational trauma: This type of trauma is passed from those who directly experience trauma onto subsequent generations.
    • Historical trauma: A type of intergenerational trauma that is experienced by specific racial, ethnic or cultural groups that accumulates across generations. Some experiences most commonly associated with historical trauma include the colonization and forced migration of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.
    • Institutional trauma: This is a type of trauma that occurs when institutions take actions that worsen the impact of traumatic experiences; for example, when a university covers up a sexual assault violation.
    • Secondary trauma: Many helping professionals experience this type of indirect trauma, through hearing or witnessing the aftermath of a traumatic event experienced by a survivor. In addition to expanding the definition of trauma, the social work field has begun to outline some essential components of trauma-informed care.

    Promoting a Sense of Safety

    Trauma-informed social workers recognize that clients may have a history of trauma and prioritize creating an environment that feels physically and psychologically safe. Physical safety can be ensured by keeping areas well lit, monitoring who is entering and exiting the building and providing clear access to exits. Psychological safety involves a client’s feelings of trust in their relationship with the social worker, and can be ensured by modeling respect, consistency, acceptance and transparency.

    Acknowledging and Reinforcing Patients’ Strengths

    Many social service and healthcare professionals focus on diagnoses and interventions, framing symptoms as problems or weaknesses. Trauma-informed social workers, on the other hand, recognize that these symptoms are coping strategies in response to trauma. These practitioners highlight resilience and acknowledge strengths, cultivating hope for recovery and change.

    Creating Opportunities for Choice

    Trauma survivors often feel a sense of powerlessness, resulting from a loss of control and predictability in their experience of trauma. Trauma-informed social workers attempt to return the client’s sense of control by offering them choices and actively involving them in goal-setting and decision-making. As clients practice making decisions in the social work setting, they develop coping strategies and self-advocacy skills that support their functioning in the outside world.

    Applying Your Knowledge

    To maximize your impact as a social work professional, you need an extensive understanding of the latest theoretical perspectives, including trauma-informed care. An online master of social work program can help you acquire the conceptual knowledge and hands-on field instruction that you can apply to improve clients’ lives and achieve your professional objectives.

    The Adelphi University Online Master of Social Work program brings decades of expertise and a legacy as a leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. As a graduate student in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with faculty members at the forefront of research on trauma-informed practices. Our graduates complete the program prepared to become Licensed Master Social Workers and fill the need for a skilled trauma workforce.

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    Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

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    Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

    How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

    “Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

    • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
    • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
    • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
    • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

    After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

    Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

    Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

    Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

    Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

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    New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain

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    By Mary King and Lisa Dodson

    In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.

    Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.

    A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs

    Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.

    Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:

    • language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
    • types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
    • schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days

    Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.

    Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers

    Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.

    Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.

    Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

    Unmet Challenges

    Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.

    Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.

    Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.

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