How to Start a Support Group for Parents with Adult Children in Prison
Tips for Starting a Support Group for Parents with Kids in Prison
Anger. Hurt. Frustration. Anxiety. Emptiness. Regret. If you've experienced an adult child going to prison, you know these feelings intimately. A support group for parents with kids in prison can make a tremendous difference. Moms and Dads can learn coping skills, find unconditional help, and even vent about their situations.
Some groups might provide guest speakers, such as a former prisoner who has changed his/her life. Many areas, even large cities, do not have support groups for parents with kids in prison. However, if you live in a city of a least 150,000 residents, the group could thrive. These tips below might help you start your own support group.
Carefully decide if this is for you.
Before you begin the group, carefully ensure that this is a responsibility you're ready for. Be sure that you do have the time and energy to make this commitment. If you are indecisive, remember you can always start one later.
Decide on how often you would like the group to meet.
Once you've make the decision to begin a group, consider how often you would like the group to meet. Ideally it is best to meet at least once a month. You could also have two meetings a month. You could offer one formal gathering, and one casual meeting, such as a Mom's Night Out at a paint-your-own pottery place.
Research possible meeting locations.
Next, decide on places to meet. It is best to not meet in member's homes. (It might be okay after you've gotten to know each other well.)
Some places to consider are coffee shops with a private room, community center rooms, library rooms (you can usually reserve them), and church classrooms. Church meeting facilities are great, however, some parents may wonder if it is only for members at a local church, and might not feel comfortable going.
Set ground rules.
It is necessary to have some group rules in place before starting. These can help the group be a nice, welcoming resource for parents. Some rules to include are "Keep discussions confidential.", "Do not interrupt others", and "Try your best to offer non-judgmental support."
Set up an online meeting site for the group.
Next, set up an online portal for your group. The best website for support groups is meetup.com here. However, it does charge a small fee. You could always begin the group there, then move to a free website such as qlubb.com and bigtent.com. An online site is essential for group organization, and notification of meetings.
Decide on topics to discuss at each meeting.
At each gathering, it is ideal to have a set topic. Some suggestions are "How to encourage your child while he/she is incarcerated", and "How to cope with the holidays." You could also leave some time for members to ask advice for anything they might be experiencing. No member should ever be forced to talk, and if they don't want to share details of their situation, allow them privacy.
Ask members for suggestions.
On your message board, ask group members for advice. Ask them what they would like to happen in the group.
Now it's time to find group members. This requires lots of patience and work. For ideas on where to advertise the group, please read "Where to Advertise a Support Group for Parents of Kids in Prison."
Find guest speakers.
If you want, try to find guest speakers for future meetings. A local psychologist might be willing to speak on stress-management skills, etc. Some church ministers would be willing to speak for free. You might even consider having a laughter yoga session. (Search on yahoo for "laughter yoga" to find a specialist.)
Ask for advice on the prison talk forum
If you need more advice on starting the group, ask for help on the prison talk forums here. There is a section for parents with kids in prison.
Pass the responsibility to another group member if leading the group becomes too overwhelming.
If leading the group becomes too stressful for you, pass the responsibility to another group member. Remember, you need to take care of yourself first before you can encourage others.
A support group for parents with kids in prison will require lots of dedication and energy. However, the benefits are worth it. It is truly a service to others. It could be the light for someone in a dark and cloudy world.