Compass Mark, an organization that works to prevent addiction and has offices in Lebanon and Lancaster, recently started offering a new program.

Compass Mark’s new Family Services Advocate aims to identify, support, and advocate for the unique needs and rights of children with incarcerated parents.

While this program has been in existence for the last four years through the Lancaster office, the Lebanon office’s program began in March thanks to a grant from the Lebanon County Commission on Drug & Alcohol Abuse and the PA Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs.

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Those that are incarcerated serve time for their decisions, but according to Director of Operations, Bevan Allen, so do their children.

“These children serve time as well,” she said in a press release, “A child not only loses their parent, but likely their healthcare benefits, housing, food access, and even their safety — real or perceived. Consider a two-parent household that is reduced to one due to a job loss — the economic impact on the household is similar with incarceration.”

The Family Services Advocate receives a referral from the community, school, or even the inmate themselves. Following the referral, it is important that the program acts quickly to ensure that a child with another parent or guardian who are perfectly capable of caring for them isn’t placed in foster care.

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If the guardian is willing to accept the responsibility, Compass Mark uses a thorough intake process to identify the child’s unique needs. From there, Compass Mark works closely with the child and caregiver, acting as support.

Allen emphasized the importance that programs like this have in keeping children from making the same mistakes as their parents later on in life.

“If this adverse childhood experience creates other negative experiences — homelessness, hunger, neglect, mental health issues — the children of the incarcerated will be at high risk of repeating their parents’ mistakes,” said Allen. “We are hopeful that we can break that cycle through this work.”

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