FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is SFCIPP?
The San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SFCIPP) is a coalition of social service providers, representatives of government bodies, advocates and others who work with or are concerned about children of incarcerated parents and their families. Formed in 2000 under the auspices of the Zellerbach Family Foundation, SFCIPP works to improve the lives of children of incarcerated parents, and to increase awareness of these children, their needs and their strengths.
After studying the issues affecting these children and their families, SFCIPP members agreed that a children’s perspective was the logical framework from which all future work should evolve. We understand that children’s rights and needs may sometimes conflict with, and must be balanced against, institutional concerns and requirements, but believe it is essential to start from the child’s perspective and work on what is possible from there.
Are these resources specific to San Francisco, California, or are they national?
Some of the questions are not location-specific, and could be useful for anyone facing the challenges of parental incarceration. The majority of the resources and services that we recommend in the answers are located in California, and some are even more specific to San Francisco. Since we work primarily with the city and county of San Francisco, these services may not apply to those outside of the area. If you are in Alameda County, we recommend checking out the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP)’s website.
What is the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents?
In 2005, SFCIPP launched the Rights to Realities Initiative, with the long-term goal that every child in San Francisco whose parent was arrested and/or incarcerated would be guaranteed the rights articulated in the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights. The group understood from its initial research that this goal was ambitious, requiring both system change and a transformation in public attitudes. SFCIPP developed a work plan that recognized the need for the work to evolve as it went, and to continue over an extended period of time.
I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest.
I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
I have the right to be well cared for in my parent’s absence.
I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my parent.
I have the right to support as I face my parent’s incarceration.
I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because my parent is incarcerated.
I have the right to have a lifelong relationship with my parent.
Are these real rights? Do people have them?
SFCIPP utilizes the Bill of Rights to organize and guide its efforts toward systematic changes across the spectrum of children’s experiences, from a parent’s arrest all the way through their return to the community. As the work has evolved, particular areas of both need and opportunity have emerged. These include keeping children safe and informed at the time of arrest, supporting them during their parent’s incarceration and after release, and maintaining strong parent-child relations. Over the past ten years, with the Bill of Rights as a foundation, more efforts and initiatives have emerged. The Bill of Rights exists because we recognize that many times, they are not honored, and the work SFCIPP does is intended to change that. However, these rights are not recognized in a court of law.
How do I locate my incarcerated parent?
(Questions from Teens)
State Prison: Finding an incarcerated loved one is now easier in the state of California than it has been in the past. To find someone who is locked-up in state prison, follow these steps:
Visit the inmate locator
Read the disclaimer that appears on the page, and if you agree, click “agree”
Search either by “inmate number” or “first and last name”—Make sure you use the person’s legal name, as it would appear on any government identification, such as California ID. You can also try searching with just the first name or just the last name if you are having problems.
This search will only return adult prisoners currently in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) institution. Please note that information for prisoners recently admitted into or transferred between prisons may not be available for several days. Visitors should contact the institution for current visiting information before traveling. If you cannot find a prisoner, contact the Department's Identification Unit at (916) 445-6713.
Federal Prison: If your parent has been sentenced to a federal prison, follow these steps:
Visit the federal prison inmate locator
Search either by “ID number” or “first and last name”—Make sure you use the person’s legal name as it would appear on any government identification such as California ID. You must search by a matching first and last name. You can include other details if you have them, such as race, age, middle name, and sex, but they are not required.
County Jail: Finding an incarcerated loved one in jail is more challenging. To find someone who is locked-up in county jail, you will need to search depending on the county they are in. California is divided into fifty-eight counties. If you know what county your parent is in you can usually access the county website by doing a Google search for the county name. Once you are on the county website, you can follow the information for the County Jail or Sheriff’s Department to possibly locate the prisoner’s information. You can also call the administrative booking unit and ask for “inmate locator information.” No matter which way you try, the most important information to get is the phone number or address of the jail’s “administrative booking unit” and the personal file number (pfn) for your parent, as these numbers are the key tool for locating them in the jail system.
What programs/resources exist for me as a child of an incarcerated parent?
(Questions from Teens)
There are several programs that support children of incarcerated parents. One of them is Project WHAT!, a program of Community Works. It is a youth-led program for children of incarcerated parents ages 14-20 in the Bay Area. Project WHAT! (PW) raises awareness about the effects of parental incarceration on children, with the long-term goal of improving services and policies that affect these children. WHAT! stands for We’re Here And Talking and refers to the youth who make up the Project WHAT! team, as well as the millions of other children in the nation that have a parent incarcerated. The program employs young people who have had a parent incarcerated as training facilitators. Project WHAT! also has a Resource Guide for Teens with a Parent in Prison or Jail which includes Bay Area resources for teens with an incarcerated parents, as well as youth stories about parental incarceration. For more information on Project WHAT!, visit Project WHAT! online at the Community Works West website.
What is the mother-infant program and how can my loved one get into it?
(Questions from Mothers)
California now has only one mother-infant program for women sentenced to state prison. It is located in Pomona. Women who are pregnant or have a child or children under age 6 can apply for the program once they arrive at state prison. If they are admitted, they will be transported from prison to the program where they will be reunited and live with their children until their release. It is dorm-like housing. The mothers have work assignments and daycare is provided for the children. They are able to visit with relatives to a limited degree.
There are several criteria for admission. The woman must have a release date of less than six years. She must have been the primary caretaker of the child/children before her incarceration and not been found "unfit". If the child is a dependent of the juvenile court, the court must find that placement with the mother is in the best interest of the child. Certain sexual or violent convictions can exclude a mother's admission. More eligibility requirements can be found in the California Penal Code section 3417. The law was amended in 2012 to expand eligibility, effective January 1, 2013.
My parental rights were terminated. What can I do now?
(Questions from Mothers, Fathers, Formerly Incarcerated Parents)
If you just had your rights terminated, you can appeal. A good place to start is with the information found in Legal Services for Prisoners with Children's Incarcerated Parents Manual. You probably had an attorney in dependency court and, if indigent, would be entitled to a court-appointed attorney on appeal. The attorney could or may have filed an appeal writ when the judge set a permanent plan hearing (".26 hearing"). Parental rights often are terminated at the permanent plan hearing. A parent can appeal that decision also. However, there are various time and issue limits to these appeal procedures. Basically, you need to find out from your lawyer what can be done and your lawyer has certain duties in this regard. Alternatively, you can contact the Appellate Project for the county where the dependency court case was heard. (Contact information for those projects is in the IPM.) A parent can raise the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel in an appeal.
If an appeal was unsuccessful (and most are) or if there was no appeal, there are a few other things to know. First, if you know where your child is currently living, it might be possible to arrange to maintain contact with the child even though parental rights were terminated. This would mean working something out with the foster family, guardian or new adoptive parents. Sometimes adoptive parents are willing to allow occasional visits, phone calls or letters.
Second, we have heard anecdotally that in rare cases a child is returned to a parent whose rights were terminated. This has occurred with older children who are doing poorly in their new home, or who are difficult to place, and where the parent is the best option for that child.
Third, many adopted children go searching for their birth parents. Girls go searching more often than boys, and kids are more likely to search for mothers than fathers. This search could start even before the child turns 18. Parents should maintain a presence on the internet so that a name search will locate them. Also, there is now a form that these parents can fill out and file with the State regarding the termination of parental rights which the child can access at age 21. There is hope that you may eventually be able to reunite with your child, even if the child is an adult.
QUESTIONS ON CHILD SUPPORT/CUSTODY
I am incarcerated and I have a child support case. What can I do about my child support order?
(Questions from Mothers, Fathers, Formerly Incarcerated Parents)
If you are no longer able to afford your child support obligation due to a change in circumstances (such as incarceration, unemployment, or disability, for example) you may request a modification of your order through the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) or through the Family Law Facilitator which is located at the Superior Court, 400 McAllister Street Room 509, SF CA. The modification process can be completed without making a court appearance. For more information, call the Department of Child Support Services at (866) 901-3212 or visit www.sfgov.org/dcss. You can call the Family Law Facilitator’s information line at (415) 551-5880. If you are a parent who is incarcerated in the San Bruno County Jail facility, DCSS staff makes weekly outreach visits on Fridays. DCSS also visits the women’s Seventh Street facility in San Francisco on Mondays. Ask DCSS staff representatives for assistance with your case.
How do I regain custody of my child/children?
(Questions from Formerly Incarcerated Parents)
Custody matters can be addressed by contacting the Family Law Facilitator, located at 400 McAllister Street Room 509, SF CA. Call (415) 551-5880 for additional information.
I was incarcerated and my child support order was not modified. Now I owe for past-due support. What can I do about that?
(Questions from Formerly Incarcerated Parents)
Contact the Family Law Facilitator at 400 McAllister Street Room 509, SF CA or call (415) 551-5880 for assistance with filing a Notice of Motion to schedule a court hearing to address your past-due support balance. If your past-due support accrued due to incarceration, you will need to provide proof of the time you spent in custody.
I was served with legal documents for child support while incarcerated. Now that I have been released, what should I do?
(Questions from Formerly Incarcerated Parents)
Call the Department of Child Support Services at (866) 901-3212 or visit DCSS at 617 Mission Street, SF CA (Monday – Friday, 7am-5pm) so that they can assist you with your case.
I have custody of my incarcerated relative’s child. Can I open a child support case? (Questions from Caregivers)
Yes. Any legal guardian or custodian of a minor dependent can request assistance from the Department of Child Support Services. If appropriate, a child support case will be opened against both of the dependent’s parents to pursue support. Call DCSS at (866) 901-3212 or visit their office at 617 Mission Street, SF CA (Monday – Friday, 7am-5pm) for assistance.
QUESTIONS ON VISITING
How can I get a visit from my child?
(Questions from Mothers, Fathers)
Getting a visit from your child is dependent on many factors, ranging from getting the visit to be court ordered to finding transportation for your child to visit you. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children is an organization that developed a manual, Child Custody and Visiting Rights Manual for Incarcerated Parents as well as a similar manual, Child Custody and Visiting Rights Manual for Recently Released Parents. Both manuals are based on California law and resources. To help answer this question in detail, we recommend looking at these manuals.
Should young children go to visit?
(Questions from Caregivers, Mothers, Fathers)
Visiting a parent in prison or jail, at any age, is a decision that should be made based on individual circumstances, resources, and knowledge of the relationship between the caregiver, the child, and the incarcerated parent as well as any other affected family members. With young children, it is often assumed that visiting will be so traumatizing, that it is not worth it. However, visiting for a young child could also be extremely beneficial for the parent-child relationship. Unless there are extreme reasons not to, we recommend visits as an important part of maintaining a child’s connection to their incarcerated parent. Some factors to consider when deciding whether or not a young child should visit their parent are:
Will it be a contact visit or a glass visit? A non-contact visit is between plexiglass with communication by phone or with a table in between the visitor and parent. No contact other than verbal communication is permitted during non-contact visits. A contact visit between a child and their parent does not require any barrier between the children and their parent. Children are allowed to hug, play and speak to their parent with no physical barrier. Parents of infants and small children are allowed to hold, feed, and console their children during the visit.
What was the child’s relationship like with the parent prior to their incarceration? Are there any extreme circumstances that would indicate that the child’s emotional and mental well being would be damaged by interacting with their parent?
What support exists for the child to prepare them for the visit, during and after?
What is the relationship like between the child and adult who would take them to visit?
Is the incarcerated parent aware that the visit is going to take place?
Who will answer some of the difficult questions that the child may ask, including: What is prison/jail? Why is my parent in prison/jail? When are they getting out?
How can my child have a contact visit with his/her parent in San Francisco County Jail?
(Questions from Mothers, Fathers, Caregivers)
The child’s parent should enroll in one of the parenting classes offered at the jail. The parent can then fill out a Parent Child Visiting Application for visits, and once they have been approved for visits the child can have a contact visit with their parent. Applications can also be acquired by filling out an Action Request sent to One Family, Community Works programs. For more information, contact the One Family Program Manager at or visit the One Family website.
I want to take a child to visit their parent for the first time. What can I expect? What are the visiting procedures that I need to know about?
(Questions from Caregivers)
Visiting someone in jail or prison can be an overwhelming experience. At some jails and prisons, there are only non-contact visits—visits that take place through glass, or where they only allow one hug. This can be stressful, especially for younger children, so if you plan to visit with a young child, it might help if someone explains to them what to expect ahead of time. You also need to prepare YOURSELF for the visit. Sometimes it seems like the prison or jail staff look for an excuse to turn visitors away—like little dress code violations. Don’t give them an excuse. If you do, you might not get in, even if you traveled hundreds of miles to visit. Getting turned away at the door is really frustrating. Just make sure you’re doing everything “right” according to their rules—even if they seem pointless. It’s critical to remember that each jail and prison has different visiting rules. The best way to make sure your visit happens is to call the prison or jail before you visit.
SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY JAIL VISITS:
Many visits at San Francisco county jails are non-contact visits through glass for thirty minutes maximum. Some of the jails allow contact visits, but ONLY if the mother or father is participating in a program AND the children are not too old (see question about contact visits through Community Works’ One Family program below).
For a non-contact visit through glass, you must stay with the child the whole time. Children cannot be left unattended at any time in a jail facility or waiting area. Unlike at state and federal prisons, where you need to fill out paperwork and get pre-approved to visit, there is no application process to visit at any of the San Francisco jails. However, you must call to reserve a visiting time slot for a non-contact visit through glass. To reserve a thirty-minute time slot for a non-contact visit, you must call the appropriate number between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. the day before you want to visit (the phone numbers can be found at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department website). Be prepared for the phone line to be busy. Once you get through, you might be put on hold. We don’t say this to discourage you, but don’t expect this to be an easy process. Make sure you call in advance to find out what to wear, and what identification to bring.
Adult visitors must be prepared to show valid identification with a current photograph, showing name, address, and date of birth. If you’re a minor visiting with an adult, you don’t need to bring ID (but if you have one, it’s always a good idea to bring it). You may bring money to put into an inmate’s account but you may not bring any personal items for your parent. All visitors may be searched. The easiest thing to do is to not bring any personal items with you except your keys and wallet (which they should allow you to keep in your pocket during the visit).
Visit the San Francisco Sherriff’s Department website for the most up to date information regarding visiting hours, phone numbers to call, and locating someone who is incarcerated.
For more information on visiting procedures, download Project WHAT!’s Resource Guide for Teens with an Incarcerated Parent and see pages 44-49 in the section titled “Visiting.”
What is the difference between contact visits and non-contact visits?
(Questions from Caregivers, Service Providers, Advocates)
A non-contact visit is between plexiglass with communication by phone or with a table in between the visitor and parent. No contact other than verbal communication is permitted during non-contact visits.
A contact visit between a child and their parent does not require any barrier between the children and their parent. Children are allowed to hug, play and speak to their parent with no physical barrier. Parents of infants and small children are allowed to hold, feed, and console their children during the visit.