A criminal conviction does not affect your parental rights and responsibilities unless a court decides to specifically address it. Therefore, any visitation rights you had prior incarceration, are still in effect after your release, unless your court order was changed to remove your access and possession rights.
Think about how the child will feel about seeing you for the first time after a long absence. Instead of building up expectations that might lead to disappointment, start off slowly. You have many years to build on a strong start. The custodial parent may have valid concerns about you spending long periods of time with children that you have not seen in a while. Prepare yourself for the many questions they will have and what you think would be helpful for them to hear. Reunions rarely meet anyone’s expectations and feeling let down afterward is a normal response. It may take several reunions to get reacquainted. It gets better. It may take 10 or 12 or 20 times of showing up and sticking it out. Show your child you are committed. You may be shocked to see how much they’ve grown since you last saw them. Talk to them at the age level they are now, not at the level they were when you last saw them. Teenagers, especially, resent being talked to as if they are in elementary school. Your children may test you and this is normal. Common reactions at reunions are shock, sorrow, happiness, anger and tears—sometimes all in the first few minutes, or sometimes spread over several visits.
Think about what type of child you have. Is the child shy or up for anything? Is your child slow to warm up to people, or does your child worry easily? You could start to visit with the children over lunch at school, or spend an afternoon with them in the park with another adult present, in order to rebuild trust. An adult friend or relative that the child could run to for reassurance and a hug can help everyone get through the first few visits. The child may be excited, yet still feel the need for approval that it’s really okay.
The Seedling Foundation provides mentors for children of incarcerated parents. Seedling’s Promise program pairs children ages 5-18 with a caring adult who meets them at the school. Positive relationships are developed that can improve children’s lives for years to come.
Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children ages 6 through 18. The volunteers develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.
Resources from The Office of the Attorney General