For Communities

Strengthening Connections

Supporting Children and Families Impacted by Incarceration.

Families are designed to create a nurturing atmosphere for children as they learn and grow. But when a child has a parent who is jailed or incarcerated, the disruption can challenge their sense of security and impact healthy development. When this happens, it is especially important for children and families to receive adequate support as they process their new reality. Children need to know that they can still have a rich, meaningful relationship with their jailed or incarcerated parent, and that they also have a future filled with hope and possibilities.

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Father laughing with baby boy

What Is Strengthening Connections?

Strengthening Connections is a pilot program we created to address the gap in services for children with incarcerated parents. Using a human-centered design process, IAFC engaged participants in problem-solving to develop and test solutions for this type of family separation. Read about our findings in our Strengthening Connections Report.

We partner with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and its Family CARES team to offer case management for families with children ages five and under, provided by licensed social workers. Case management helps families access supportive services and resources, including early childhood programs where educators have experience caring for children coping with and healing from trauma.

We also provide a safe and welcoming environment for children to meet with their jailed or incarcerated parent at quarterly events, without bars or separation. Parents can dress in street clothes and bond freely with their children—giving hugs, playing games, and creating special memories, without added restrictions.

Why Did We Create This Program?

We developed Strengthening Connections in response to our research with families. Across Illinois, approximately 200,000 children have a jailed or incarcerated parent—including 37,000 children living in Chicago. In 2021, the Illinois Early Learning Council recognized the priority and urgency of caring for children and families in these circumstances.

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Shot of a young father embracing his baby at home

Who Is Eligible?

Parents incarcerated in Cook County who have guardianship of at least one child under age eight can qualify for Strengthening Connections, with a referral. Contact us to learn more.

Strengthening Family Connections Report

Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) has committed to developing solutions addressing the separation of families by parental incarceration. To break the cycles of poverty and racism that prevent Black and Latinx children from achieving their dreams, IAFC has pledged to engage families and communities to design and test strategies and tools that strengthen relationships among families impacted by parental incarceration. This engagement was designed and executed to achieve those aims.

Read the full report

Father and baby son

How Can You Help?

As we continue to expand the program beyond the pilot group of 100 families, we need your help. Let us know if your organization works with jailed and incarcerated parents and you would like to become a community partner.

You can also give a gift to support Strengthening Connections today! Your generous financial donations will help us to serve more families, partner with more facilities, and develop additional resources including:

  • Comfortable, family-centric meeting spaces
  • Parenting classes
  • Transportation for families to and from events
  • Therapy and counseling services for children
  • Additional family engagement opportunities

To give gifts in kind, including diapers, toiletries, and other household items that directly help families, contact us to learn more and share your interests.

Contact Us