With roots dating back 30 years, the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated (NRCCFI) — the oldest organization of its kind in the United States — made a new home at Rutgers University–Camden in October. Now known as the NRCCFI at Rutgers–Camden, the center has ushered in a new era of collaborative research, resource dissemination, advocacy, training, and educational opportunities.
“Our affiliation with Rutgers–Camden enables us to further our mission of connecting research, policy and practice,” says Ann Adalist-Estrin, director of the resource center, who was honored at the White House in June 2013 as a Champion of Change for her work in support of children of the incarcerated and their caregivers.
It’s a “win-win” for Rutgers–Camden and the NRCCFI, agrees Jane Siegel, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Rutgers–Camden, who was instrumental in bringing the organization to the university.
“This is an invaluable resource throughout the country,” says Siegel. “By becoming the NRCCFI at Rutgers–Camden, it really identifies us as an important part of the conversation regarding this critical issue.”
Rutgers–Camden provides much-needed logistical and supervisory support in the design and supply of training materials, tools, and services to programs, agencies, and systems working with children and families of the incarcerated.
The university also helps the organization to raise public awareness by gathering and disseminating information, primarily through its internationally renowned website, fcnetwork.org, now also accessible at nrccfi.camden.rutgers.edu. The site serves as a major repository of information for families and service providers, featuring a directory of programs for and about children and families of the incarcerated, a library of invaluable research and resource materials, and a fact sheet of relevant facts and statistics. The site also has a comprehensive listserv to disseminate information around the globe.
As part of this initiative, Rutgers–Camden faculty assists the NRCCFI in highlighting current research initiatives, as well as new and promising program and practice designs, and systems change initiatives. This focus includes helping to provide annotated descriptions of current research on the website, in order to make it more accessible for practitioners and policy makers.
“We can translate this research into terms that non-researchers can understand better, and understand what the implications of the research are for policy and practice,” explains Siegel.
The website will also specifically highlight research and policies affecting children and families of the incarcerated in New Jersey and Camden. Adalist-Estrin notes that she has worked extensively with organizations throughout the state, which has included holding numerous training sessions for service providers. The NRCCFI has also been working to develop resource materials with the New Jersey Human Relations Council, which has focused on children of incarcerated parents as a principal issue.
As the longtime director explains, Rutgers–Camden also provides the ideal, multidisciplinary environment to connect research with practice and policy.
“We hope to continue working with numerous departments, such as criminal justice and social work, as well as the law school, and child-focused centers on campus,” she says. “Rutgers has such a rich history in all of these fields; it is a great place for us to be.”
Rutgers–Camden students conversely benefit tremendously from increased opportunities to access the latest resources and information, connect with organizations, and engage in collaborative research, says Siegel.
“There are many opportunities for students from various disciplines who may be interested in working with this population,” she says, adding, “Students have been busy updating the website, and exploring policies and practices in New Jersey and beyond.”
Students and professionals alike also continue to prosper from Adalist-Estrin’s considerable teaching and training experience. For the past three years, she has taught a Rutgers–Camden course on children and families of the incarcerated – the only one of its kind in the country – which emphasizes the emotional, psychological, and financial welfare of these children, as well as the family structure, and the roles that schools, the corrections system, child welfare, and health and mental health centers play in their well-being. She also regularly leads on-site training sessions throughout the state, including workshops for The New Jersey Child Welfare Training Partnership, a joint initiative of the Rutgers–New Brunswick School of Social Work, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and the Montclair State University Center of Child Advocacy.
In addition, the resource center will convene national, regional and local symposiums and conferences in order to foster learning, interaction and dialogue. Adalist-Estrin notes that Rutgers–Camden held a successful conference on children and families of the incarcerated in 2011, when she was invited to help design and plan the event. From that conference arose the notion of bringing the resource center to the university.
The NRCCFI will also engage the community with a variety of outreach initiatives. For instance, Adalist-Estrin formerly served as an advisor for Sesame Street’s “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative, a free instructional toolkit that includes multimedia and bilingual – English and Spanish – materials targeting young children of incarcerated parents. These educational resources include a Sesame Street DVD, live-action film showcasing families and an animated short segment, a children’s story book, a guide for parents and caregivers, and a tip sheet for incarcerated parents. She now plans to host an event on campus to screen the film and distribute copies to guests.
According to Adalist-Estrin, Sesame Street’s initiative and the Obama Administration’s enhanced focus show that people are increasingly turning their attention to this critical issue. And more than ever, she says, the NRCCFI at Rutgers–Camden is prepared to lead the effort.
“Everything is falling into place,” she says. “People are listening, but they are asking, ‘Now what? What can I do?’ We are ready to provide needed programs and systems to make life better for children and families of the incarcerated.”