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Office of Child Advocate: Communication between kids, jailed parents can't be cut

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Moira O'Neill, director of the State of New Hampshire Office of Child Advocate (Courtesy photo).

CONCORD - On Friday the Office of the Child Advocate released its first Issue Briefing on the plight of children of incarcerated parents.

Approximately 15,000 New Hampshire children have experienced a parent being incarcerated, report stated adding that incarceration of a parent is an identified adverse childhood experience with confirmed long term negative impact on a child's health and development.

The briefing identifies areas of concern, chiefly obstacles to communication, between parents, the DCYF and the Department of Corrections.

"Communication is the key." said Moira O'Neill, the director of the State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate. "Timely and consistent communication across agencies, with parents, and within families is critical to maintain parent/child relationships when safe and appropriate, or ease children on to other permanent relationships when necessary."

The briefing notes that prevention of parental incarceration is the primary protectant for children. It explains, however, that when parents are incarcerated, communication must be carefully maintained to avoid any delays in permanency - whether through reunification or termination of parental rights. "We need to lessen the negative impact on a child's wellbeing and development in difficult circumstances. Better communication will help ensure that court orders are followed, parents are informed and updated on the activities in their case, parents understand their options when they lose parental rights, and if reunification is expected, parents are prepared and a healthy relationship is nurtured." O'Neill said.

The OCA Issue Briefing is described as a means to inform DCYF and the public on findings and recommended practices that would contribute to the best interest of children in the care and protection of DCYF.

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