JEFFERSON CITY - In an effort to address the stigma surrounding children separated from their incarcerated parents, a bill proposing to fix the broken familes was put forth a House committee Monday.
Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, who has worked in the St. Louis corrections department for over 25 years, proposed the bill to the Missouri House Urban Issues committee. The bill would give state funding to a two-year pilot program to provide transportation for children to visit their incarcerated mothers once each month.
There was little opposition brought up in the hearing, although committee memeber Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-St. Louis County, raised questions over budget issues. The program would require buses to transport children to the correction facilities, and if approved, the program could cost roughly $100,000 according to legislative staff estimates.
The program would provide transportation for children and their caregivers to the two primary Missouri female corrections centers in Chillicothe and Vandalia.
Hubbard said that often when a parent is incarcerated, the children are left in the care of relatives or foster families, many of which do not have the means or time to transport these children to see their mothers on a regular basis. Hubbard also said that reconnecting these women with their children would give support to these children, who often feel abandoned or resentful for being taken away from their mothers.
“We have to love these children more, we have to try to reach them.” Hubbard said.
A private program similar to the pilot program, called Patch, exists in Springfield, Missouri. The existing program helps bring children to their mothers in the correctional center in Chillicothe. In an interview before the hearing, Barb Burton, director of Patch, said that the program teaches the mothers how to be better parents, as well as reconnect them with their children in a safe and family-oriented environment. Burton says she has seen progress both in their interactions as mothers and children, and their growth as a family.
“We want the mother to be successful, and experience some success and bonding and dealing with their child so that she has a feeling of hope for the future.” Burton said.
Sister Jackie Toben, a representative from Let’s Start, and Shannon Hawk, from Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, two organizations that have programs similar to the one which is proposed in the bill, came to testify in support of the pilot. Dr. Jeff Dorn, also testified, saying that separation from parents often leads to shame and guilt in children from the negative stigma of having incarcerated parents, leading them to act out and potentially become offenders themselves. Dorn has studied the social effects of children without parental role models and works with Shapes, a mentoring program in Springfield, Missouri.
Rep. Mike Brown, D-Kansas City, spoke during the hearing, suggesting that perhaps the pilot program could provide information on the effect of child visits on recidivism rates. Brown said the program may have the potential to lower recidivism by reconnecting families.
The bill is scheduled for a second hearing in front of the Urban Issues committee Wednesday.