It's not uncommon for one or both of a foster child's birth parent may be in jail or prison. This may mean that the child is not allowed the same weekly visitation that other foster children get with their birth parents. However, there still are ways for children and parents to remain connected, even while their parents are incarcerated.
I learned a few neat ideas on maintaining a foster child's connections while their parents are incarcerated that I'd like to share, plus I've added a few of my own ideas.
Note: It's important to talk with the family's social worker before moving forward with these ideas.
Play games through the mail. Children and their incarcerated parent can play Tic Tac Toe through the mail. The child makes several game boards on a sheet of paper and then makes their move on each board – with either an /x/ or an /o/. The foster parent or social worker then mails the sheet to their parent who will then take their turn on each board.
Another fun game to play through the mail is Hangman. The child or the parent can determine the word or phrase and mail the sheet with the dashes already mapped out. The person guessing writes down the letters they are guessing and mails it back to the other.
Find other paper and pencil games to share through the mail with the About.com Guide to Board / Card Games.
Artwork. Shared pictures are another fun activity. The parent or child can trace their hands on a sheet of paper and color it for the other. The hand prints can also be left blank to be colored or decorated by the other and returned.
Beyond shared art projects, incarcerated birth parents and their children will love receiving drawings and colored pictures from each other.
Cards and letters. Correspondence is always an appropriate way to communicate with parents who are incarcerated. Letters and cards are often cherished by those who receive them. NOTE: Check out the jail or prison website and learn what can be mailed to an inmate. Some things may not be appropriate.
Skype. Find out if the jail or prison allows prisoners to Skype visitation with family members. Skype would give the child and a birth parent the opportunity for a face-to-face visit without travel to a facility. This may be a great alternative for visitation if the facility is located a great distance away from the child. Again, it may not be offered, but it is worth asking.
Phone contact. Phone calls between a birth parent and foster child can also be an easy way for connections to be maintained while a parent is incarcerated. Check with the social worker on the case to determine if phone calls with birth parents are allowed. Also know that inmates may not be allowed to receive calls, but can make outgoing calls. Check to see what is approved on the prison or jail website.
Visitation. Be open and helpful if a child is able to visit their parent while in prison or jail. It may be difficult to transport a child you care about to a family visit in a harsh environment, but remember how important visits are to children and the reunification process. Also, know that many prisons have updated their visitation facilities with children and families in mind.
What a wonderful thing a foster parent can accomplish when they help a family maintain their attachment and connection, even while one or both of the child's birth parents are incarcerated.