A newly released report from Faribault Youth Investment is drawing attention to the unique issues faced by youth with parents or other close relatives in the incarceration system.
FYI Director Becky Ford presented the findings of the report Tuesday to the Rice County Board of Commissioners. She noted that helping to serve this often ignored and marginalized group of young people has been a priority of FYI since its foundation and recommended the board form a council dedicated to helping youth with an incarcerated parent.
Launched in 2014, FYI works with Faribault Public Schools and other community organizations to provide and coordinate programming for Faribault Youth. Its goal is to help instill in all young people the skills and “developmental assets” they need to succeed and thrive.
State and national reports indicate that the community of young people with loved ones in the criminal justice system is sizable and largely underserved. According to the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, 16% of Minnesota children have a currently or previously incarcerated parent. Here in Rice County, MSS results indicate that having a current or previously incarcerated parent is the second most common adverse childhood experience, exceeded only by the number of children who live with a mentally ill family member.
According to FYI’s report, numerous local agencies lack the resources to calculate how many families they serve include current or formerly incarcerated members. Among those that do, the numbers are startling.
In the Rice County Treatment Court, for example, roughly 60% of participants are parents. While the Minnesota Department of Corrections doesn’t track data for its Faribault prison, 2 in 3 adults in the state’s county jails are parents, according to a 2017 University of Minnesota report.
“This is somewhat of a hidden population,” Ford said. “We might see people who are struggling but unless we ask questions, we just don’t know.”
Figuring out the scope of the local problem and potential solutions was a priority not only for FYI but also for Rice County Family Services Collaborative, an organization focused on improving mental healthcare for children, and reducing truancy and drug use in families.
Rice County Family Services Collaborative is one of 90 collaboratives of its type in Minnesota. The model was created by the state legislature in 1993 to help local organizations pool the resources needed to address the complex issues faced by vulnerable youth. Locally, organizations involved in Family Services Collaborative include Northfield and Faribault Public School districts, Rice County Community Corrections, Public Health and Social Services and Three Rivers Community Action.
With funding from Family Services Collaborative, FYI embarked on the study last January and interviewed nearly 40 local stakeholders, including leaders in local government agencies, nonprofits, education and law enforcement.
In addition, six listening sessions were held with parents who have experience with incarceration. Ten minor children also attended those sessions as indirect participants, and individual interviews and group listening sessions with youth were also conducted.
In their interviews, parents agreed that the cost of criminal activities and subsequent incarceration was acutely felt by their children in stigma, economic and social instability, lost opportunities and severe mental health challenges.
“Parents who were incarcerated talked about feeling helpless to do much to support their children or relieve the stress,” the report reads. “A kind of detachment was necessary for their own self-preservation.”
Ford noted that a focus on improving social and economic outcomes for children of incarcerated persons has become particularly important during the pandemic, which has left them more vulnerable than ever to the risks of deprivation and abuse.
“The pandemic has exacerbated difficult situations whether that’s incarceration, immigration, mental health or poverty,” she said. “It has put a spotlight on areas in our community and society where we have gaps.”
Parents were also asked how they believe policymakers and leaders from different sectors could better accommodate the needs of their children. A priority, they agreed, was to improve access to quality mental health care and other support. Most of all though, they said they hope to see the world become more forgiving of those with severe mistakes in their past. Parents said they’ve seen the severe stigma around the issue prevent them and their children from accessing the opportunities and support they need.
The issues faced by children were laid out in stark and severe terms. Most reported that any interactions with their incarcerated parents were “emotionally cold and unhelpful,” and that a close relationship was not safe or comfortable due to their inconsistent behavior and presence.
In order to help themselves cope, many report severe mental health issues and trauma, as well as a lack of financial stability that has led to food instability, forced them to move repeatedly and sometimes even left them homeless.
Those struggles have often led them to engage in increasingly aggressive behavior, neglect schoolwork and turn to drug use. Children reported a distrust of all systems, from law enforcement to social workers and counselors.
Many say their caregivers have established romantic relationships with strangers to fulfill emotional and financial needs. Tragically, many of these relationships turn violent, leaving children afraid for their caregiver’s safety.
In order to assist these children, the report recommends the creation of an entirely new organization. The Rice County Children’s Justice Council would be required to bring about change by getting the resources, and community and organizational buy-in necessary.
“It would be beneficial to have decision makers come together to focus on children,” Ford said. “We have departments already that focus on children, but the children I spoke with weren’t necessarily on anyone’s caseload.”
Another recommendation is that the county participate in the State Community Health Services Advisory Council. According to the report, this organization is designed to help localities implement family-friendly visiting practices and strengthen relationships as much as possible.
In addition, the report says a comprehensive awareness campaign could be used to reduce stigma around the issue. It also recommends that local agencies ask children and families about familial incarceration status to ensure the best possible response.
Ford said that in addition to government agencies, it’s also important for nonprofits and members of the faith community to be involved. Megan Horton of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota noted that her organization is already deeply involved with the issue.
According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, 23% of children they serve have a parent or loved one with a history of incarceration. Many of those children say that a particular driver of their struggles is an inability to find a positive role model in life. BBBS serves children in Rice, Steele, Waseca and Dodge counties.
“Our program offers another support system, another friend, another person to talk to,” she said. “We have seen that placing a positive role model in the lives of these children benefits them.”
Erin Banks, Faribault Lutheran School kindergarten teacher, knows it’s hard for young learners to sit still.
But to avoid the risk of spreading germs during the coronavirus pandemic, her students need to stay in the same spot throughout the day. Like teachers throughout the school, she needed to get creative in preparation for the 2020-21 year, which begins Tuesday.
As a solution, Banks ordered Scoop chairs, lap desks and yoga mats for each of her 16 students. Spaced 6 feet apart, students can rock back and forth on their seats or lie on their yoga mats during the day while facing in the same direction to eliminate physical interactions.
“We still want kindergarten to be very joyful,” Banks said.
The seats and desks Banks ordered are made of plastic, which makes for easy sanitation at the end of the day. Each item has a number that corresponds with a student, so products will be placed in the same spots after each sanitation. Banks even put stickers on the floor so she knows where to place the yoga mats.
School wide, FLS teachers have made adjustments to their lessons and procedures to meet new health and safety guidelines. At a school where community building and inter-grade mingling are huge priorities, teachers and school leaders are faced with the challenge of keeping small groups of students in their pods and staying healthy.
“Everything is going to take just a little longer this year,” said FLS second-grade teacher Kellsey Meyer, who noted hand washing is a big lesson she’ll teach her students.
In their homerooms, Banks said students in the K-8 school are allowed to take off their masks because families have committed to limiting their outings to school. Each classroom allows for a capped number of students depending on the area of the room. Some allow up to 20 while others are limited to 14, and a couple teachers switched classrooms to accommodate class sizes.
At least two students will participate in the distance learning model FLS coordinated, and those students may watch livestreams of their classes or view the recordings later. Teachers will also arrange specific times when in-person students can video chat with students at home.
One of the biggest gatherings of the week for FLS students is chapel, but this year, only two grades will gather in the chapel per week while other classrooms livestream the service. Although parents and community members aren’t allowed to attend chapel with students this year, they can also livestream the services.
“We’re so grateful we had that livestream option already set up,” said FLS fourth-grade teacher Diana Kitzman.
Students will abide by staggered lunch times and space apart with four seats per table in the cafeteria, which custodians will clean between each lunch shift. Teachers will use gloves to serve condiments and salad bar options so multiple students won’t need to handle the same utensils.
Teachers will monitor the pick-up and drop-off routine before and after school this year to make sure students social distance as they enter and exit the school. Families are expected to screen their children for symptoms of COVID-19 before each school day with temperature checks, and students who come to school without a recorded temperature will need to go to the office for a screening.
If a student experiences symptoms of COVID-19, Meyer said staff will follow a flow chart from Minnesota Public Health, which was adjusted to meet the needs of FLS. Students are not required to test for COVID-19, she said, but they will be expected to quarantine before returning to school.
FLS Principal Becky Gerdes, who started her tenure in July, said she’s grateful for the partnerships that formed with area parochial schools during the pandemic as well as the school’s COVID-19 preparedness team. Parents employed at businesses, in the medical field and in the public school system shared their input during meetings to help FLS develop its approach to the pandemic.
FLS hired an additional cleaning crew to meet COVID-19 guidelines, and the school has also shared resources with Divine Mercy Catholic School, Bethlehem Academy and Shattuck-St.Mary’s. One major resource is Mary Herzog, registered nurse for Faribault parochial schools, who keeps FLS informed of sudden changes in COVID-19 research and health and safety procedures.
“We were able to do that forward thinking,” Gerdes said of the preparedness plan. “It’s been great to collaborate with the Catholic school system.”
As it prepares to move into its operations to downtown Faribault, rapidly growing hot sauce manufacturer Cry Baby Craig’s is in the process of making the necessary modifications to its new home.
Co-owners Craig Kaiser and Sam Bonin have been working on plans to move their business to Faribault for more than a year. At first, they planned to move into a building at 313 Central Ave. Last August, Faribault’s Economic Development Authority agreed to provide a $50,000 loan to facility the company’s move from Minneapolis. That funding was matched by the Southern Minnesota Initiative and coupled with a $250,000 loan from the State Bank of Faribault.
Along with funding basic moving costs, the funding enabled Cry Baby Craig’s to purchase new bottling equipment that will enable the company to dramatically increase production, from 2,000 bottles a day to 2,000 bottles an hour.
However, the deal at 313 Central fell apart as the relationship between the business owners and potential landlord soured. The dispute forced Cry Baby Craig’s to look for a new building. That they found in 405 Central Ave. The former B&B Sporting Goods building was purchased by the company for $235,000 last month, providing Cry Baby Craig’s with a space much roomier than at 313 Central.
Upon buying the building, Kaiser expressed excitement that the company would be able to control its own destiny without having to deal with a landlord. He also said that even if Cry Baby Craig’s outgrows the space, it will remain its headquarters.
At 100 years old, the building at 405 Central is historic in theory, and offers well-located retail or office space. However, what is likely a historic facade underneath has been covered up for decades by sheet metal.
Even after Cry Baby Craig’s took over the building, delays have continued. Kaiser said he’s hoping to get the space functional by the end of the year, with significant modifications needed in the building’s interior.
With regard to the exterior, Kaiser said that the most immediate concern is to install a loading dock on the back of the building. That will require approval from the Heritage Preservation Committee and the city, as the building sits in the downtown historic district and the dock will encroach into public parking.
Kaiser said that he is happy to share the dock with other local businesses, if need be. Once that’s complete, he said that Cry Baby Craig’s could take a look at removing the white metal exterior to give the building a more historic feel. Whether the siding ultimately comes down will depend on what Cry Baby Craig’s finds underneath. He said that he’s unsure what condition it’s in and noted it’s possible windows could exist underneath the siding, but no formal documentation exists.
The HPC had planned to meet on Friday to discuss the matter, but delayed it after receiving insufficient information from the architects behind the plan. Kaiser said that he would likely discuss removing just one panel to see the condition of the exterior.
HPC Member Karl Vohs, a downtown building owner himself, said that such a restoration project would be common. Vohs added that it’s reasonable that Cry Baby Craig’s is hesitant to open up the exterior given the lack of information available.
“It’s hard to make a plan when you don’t know what’s there,” he said. “You have to put something back when you tear that down.”