They Took My Parents Away: Little Ones Affected By Incarceration Speak

They Took My Parents Away: Little Ones Affected By Incarceration Speak

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Since the second World War, we have understood that infants and toddlers manifest profound affective, developmental and behavioral responses to the loss of a parent. In more recent years, we have seen that such loss may provoke neurological changes that are lasting, and show up in classroom behavior, relationships, decision-making and personality many years later—even when the loss occurred at a profoundly early age. Curiously, we have attended very little to the implications of this research relative to loss due to parental incarceration. A number of articles and a smaller number of books have tried to document what incarceration means to school-age children, but there have been virtually no reports on the meaning of such loss (and subsequent chaos) to infants and toddlers, much less to prenates.

This film is based on the well-researched notion that the inner life of the very young child is exceedingly active, in the service of the child’s natural adaptive propensity to survive. The internal narrative of the young child who experiences loss is often incoherent, leading to ideas about the self and the self-in-the-world that may not seem rational to adults, but which represent the best shot of the baby, or toddler, or prenate to make sense of what is happening. These internal representations may or may not last, depending on what happens next, and may or may not lead to problem behaviors. But the feelings don’t go away, even when the incarcerated parent is barely known to the child.

A Note From Michael Trout: Please don’t mistake the contents of this film as political statements. They are not. That’s not my area. No position on incarceration, or on criminal justice policy, is taken or implied. My purpose is merely to provoke conversation and consideration about what happens to those left behind, with respect to both life circumstances and internal emotional life. And it is to throw light into the dark corner where those left behind often find themselves. No matter how angry we are at those who commit crime, we must still face the fact that our efforts to punish, isolate, or rehabilitate them do not happen in a vacuum; the little ones at home (whatever “home” then means) are watching, listening, responding. We’ll hear from these little ones again. My hope is that we might decide to hear them now. (17 minutes)

This film is provided free of charge to serve as a resource for professionals, caregivers, and children whose lives have been touched by incarceration.