"Right now, virtually nothing is known about how we can help these children."
Texas Medical Center Grant Will Help Determine Needs Of Kids With Parents in Jail
HOUSTON, January 28, 2018 — The Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute is providing $94,784 to help local leaders determine the best ways to support children whose parents are incarcerated.
A child can suffer wide-ranging, lifelong impacts when his or her parent is jailed, yet there is relatively little understanding today of how best to address those kids’ unique needs, experts say.
“Right now, virtually nothing is known about how we can help these children,” said Christopher Greeley, MD, the project’s principal investigator, who is vice chair of community health at Baylor College of Medicine’s pediatrics department and chief of public health pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital.
A parent’s incarceration can disrupt a family’s income and access to health care. Families of people who’ve been jailed may need help getting food, applying for social services or receiving treatment for mental health issues. Today, law enforcement officials don’t collect information from individuals when they’re booked at the county jail, Greeley said. At any given time, there are around 9,000 inmates housed in Harris County jails, Greeley said, but it’s unclear how many of them have children.
“If the person who is incarcerated is the breadwinner, lots of family needs all of a sudden become really critical,” Greeley said. “Sometimes people will get incarcerated for something relatively minor, and they can’t afford to pay bond as low as $500. Because of that, a kid’s life is irrevocably altered.”
Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are working together on the research. Researchers hope to add questions to the jail intake form that will ask inmates about their children and the support they need. Researchers also plan on conducting interviews with inmates, as well as the people who take care of their children, to find out about the kids’ needs.
“This project fills a void because there’s little understanding of the needs of these families,” said Stephen Linder, PhD, associate director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute. “We are eager to support this research, which will ultimately lead to healthier kids and healthier communities.”
Greeley said everyone should care about inmates’ children because they have an increased risk of dropping out of school, struggling with employment, remaining on welfare and facing mental health issues. Communities can reduce those risks if they act proactively. “They are marginalized children, but they are Texans and they are citizens,” Greeley said. “Our policies today are potentially hurting them.”
Researchers will share their findings in approximately one year. The grant is part of the Texas Medical Center Grant Program in Collaborative Health Policy Research. Since 2016, the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute has awarded $2 million in grants to researchers studying innovative approaches to health policy.
About the Texas Medical Center
What was sparked with the founding of a single hospital in Houston in 1925 has come to be the Texas Medical Center (TMC) today. Home to 59 member institutions, TMC operates the world’s largest medical city with 10 million patients and family encounters with doctors, nurses and staff at TMC every year. TMC is dedicated to reinventing life sciences to improve the health and wellness of Houston, and the world. Learn more at tmc.edu.
About the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute
The Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute was established to inform, define and lead health policy with the goal of developing the most effective solutions to improve the health of diverse populations around the globe. By driving innovative, evidence-based health policy initiatives across the Texas Medical Center’s 59 member institutions, the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute addresses fundamental health policy issues important to Houston, Texas and the nation. More information at tmc.edu/health-policy.
For media inquiries:
Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute
Ryan Holeywell, Communications Manager
Texas Children’s Hospital
Jenn Blackmer Jacome, Assistant Director, Public Relations