Reducing Barriers to Reunification for Children of Incarcerated Parents

The Challenge

For children of incarcerated parents, the barriers to family reunification following a parent’s release can be significant. Research demonstrates that regular parent-child contact and interaction is critical to successful reunification; however, institutional barriers, such as limitations on visitation hours, mean that parents often have little contact with their children during their confinement. In addition, parents are often released from prison with no clear plan or supports for obtaining stable housing, public benefits, or employment. If the returning parent has a child in foster care, reunification becomes especially challenging, since the law limits the time the parent is eligible to successfully reunify.

The Project

Through her Stoneleigh Fellowship, Kathleen Creamer worked to ensure stronger reunification outcomes for children of incarcerated parents by facilitating improved social work practice and cross-system collaboration between the the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS).

This Stoneleigh Fellowship enabled Kathleen to:

  • Convene a joint DHS/PPS task force to develop policy and implement practice changes for social workers with cases involving incarcerated parents. Among its accomplishments, the task force signed a joint policy and protocol emphasizing the importance of family engagement and quality casework for incarcerated parents. It also established video conferencing between facilities, enabling incarcerated parents to participate in planning meetings about their children’s care.
  • Improve visitation and reentry planning for incarcerated parents. Kathleen worked with Pennsylvania Prison Society’s Working Group to Enhance Services to Incarcerated Women to implement new, more accessible visitation hours at the Riverside Correctional Facility. She also partnered with the Defender Association of Philadelphia to advocate for a change in policy to make it easier for children to visit their mothers at Riverside Correctional Facility. Kathleen also assisted the Women’s Law Project in developing a discharge planning guide for parents leaving incarceration.
  • Engage in statewide advocacy to improve outcomes for children of incarcerated parents. Kathleen worked with the Dependent Children of Incarcerated Parents Workgroup of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to elevate the importance of engaging incarcerated parents in dependency proceedings. She developed resources, assisted with curriculum, and presented to judges, administrators, and attorneys across the state. As a member of the Statewide Advisory Committee on Children of Incarcerated Parents, Kathleen developed legislative recommendations regarding parents’ rights.
Photo Credit: © Richard Ross,
Kathleen Creamer's Headshot

Kathleen Creamer, JD

Stoneleigh Fellow

2012 - 2014

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Current Position

Managing Attorney, Family Advocacy Unit
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia


Project Updates