Children can suffer from a wide range of potential problems including economic disadvantage, physical and mental problems, school difficulties, aggressive behavior, and an increase likelihood of criminal behavior, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Deep poverty, abuse, neglect and exposure to violence in early childhood can all lead to toxic stress, according to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, professor of Child Health and Development and Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University). “The early childhood years (birth to age 5) lay the foundation for later economic productivity, responsible citizenship, and a lifetime of sound physical and mental health.”
The Makua Keiki (Parent & Child) Program provided through Kaua‘i Good Beginnings supports keiki of incarcerated parents in an effort to reduce toxic stress. Parents on probation and pre-trial also receive support through a grant received from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Makua Keiki began in 2006 with parents from Adult Probation (AP) and Kaua‘i Intake Service Center (KISC). A year later, the program expanded to Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center (KCCC) to support inmate parents coming out of the system.
The goals of the program are to help parents bond with their child, and decrease the risk of child abuse. Parents separated from their children because of incarceration have an opportunity to reconnect with their child before being released, and the program provides a safe and nurturing environment within the confines of KCCC for a parent and their child to interact and play. One KCCC parent describes the experience: “Makua Keiki has broadened my views on what responsibilities we have being parents. It has helped me be more open-minded and more patient when dealing with my sons. One of the things I have learned is the bonding, we do it as parents by interacting and communicating with our children. For me it was tough to learn because as a child I never had that. I know jail isn’t a place to be, or have your children come, but this class helps us to be better parents, as well as grasp onto things that can make a difference in our own lives and our children’s lives”. Makua Keiki has three components: parent education, a play and learn group, and caregivers support group. Child development, positive guidance, family values, and the parent’s role as their child’s first teacher are part of the curriculum in the parent education class. Within the play and learn group, parents play with their child while applying their knowledge and skills. The Program Manager oversees and guides appropriate techniques and strategies to develop a nurturing relationship. The caregivers support group consists of the spouse, aunt, foster parent, or grandparents who face financial, social and emotional challenges raising children of incarcerated parents or parents at-risk. This group is facilitated by a license social worker who counsels the caregivers. “In the final analysis, healthy child development is dependent on a combination of individual responsibility, informal social supports, and formalized structures that evolve within a society.” (From Neurons to Neighborhoods).
Makua Keiki is part of the statewide Supporting Keiki’s of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SKIPP), which includes Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.
• Anna Peters, M.A. CFLE, is the Kaua‘i coordinator of Good Beginnings Alliance, 4485 Pahee St. Ste. 130, Lihu‘e. Call 632-2114 or visit www.goodbeginnings.org to learn more.