Foster parents needed for incarcerated mothers

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By Amanda Manning

 Around 12 inmates are pregnant at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women (KCIW) in Pewee Valley and several of those babies will be in need of foster homes.

At the end of September, that number was 24, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections. And at the end of October, it was 22. 

“The number of pregnant females changes as women give birth and we receive new inmates,” a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Corrections said.

As of Nov. 21, there were 12 inmates pregnant. 

Jennifer Conway, the executive director of Operation Open Arms, helps find temporary homes for some of those children. 

Operation Open Arms is a private agency that places children whose mothers are incarcerated into homes, “with the ultimate goal of reuniting families whenever possible,” according to its website.

“We predominantly go into Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women,” Conway said. “So the last couple of weeks, I’ve had several meetings with different birth moms who are choosing us as a placement for their child.”

KCIW denied the Era’s questions in a phone call.

At Operation Open Arms, they are licensed to train each foster family for 30 hours, in addition to a number of other requirements. 

Although there are no foster families in Oldham County who currently work with Operation Open Arms, Conway, a Crestwood resident, says the community and churches have recently helped out.

“We’ve got such an astounding feedback from there,” Conway said. “We’ve had a lot of donations come out of Oldham County and Crestwood specifically.”

In addition, Southeast Christian Church in Crestwood lets foster families from Operation Open Arms attend their support group for fostering and adoptive parents. 

When it’s time for a mother at KCIW to give birth, they are typically transported to Norton Women and Children’s Hospital, according to Conway.

And after they’re born until they are three years old, they are usually allowed bonding visits with the mother inside the prison, where a nursery is set up inside the chapel.

“An inmate may visit with her newborn upon her return from the hospital and may be scheduled for any day of the week,” according to KCIW’s website.

Operation Open Arms participates in those bonding visits. “It is once per week visits, anywhere between one to two hours each,” Conway explained. “And they are able to actually hold, cuddle and love on their little babies. We are present for those visits, but it gives mom the opportunity to bond and build a relationship with her child."

Conway said that the number of pregnant inmates could be even more, as KCIW is over capacity.

As of Nov. 27, the women’s prison had 715 inmates, according to a Kentucky Department of Corrections population report. The operational capacity of the facility is 691 inmates, making it at 103.5 percent capacity. 

She also said that 24 is likely a large number of pregnant inmates.  “I will say honestly it’s probably higher now than it’s ever been,” Conway said. “A lot of that is attributed to the growing substance abuse epidemic. We’re seeing an increase in pregnant woman being incarcerated because of substances.”

The Era did not have access to any of the woman’s records. 

Six states in the country allow conjugal visits, but Kentucky is not one of them.

Foster parents also have the option of going through the state, in addition to other private agencies. 

La Grange resident Mark Hoffman and his wife currently foster three children. During the yearlong process of becoming a foster parent, they questioned the state.

“We challenged the state during our training… ‘We’ve had people be very critical of your program and they used to be in your program and they went to private organizations,’” he asked. 

“She said ‘well, I’m sorry that they had that experience. We are here to provide the best care possible for the children and to work with the foster parents, but everybody that adopts or fosters, goes through the state initially,’” Hoffman explained.

And for those who may be considering fostering a child, Hoffman suggests going for it. “Talk to other foster parents more to learn their experience so when you go through the training, you have a better opportunity to ask the questions,” he said. “I would say if it’s even on their heart to do it, they should at least start the process.”

In addition to fostering, Operation Open Arms accepts monetary and item donations. 

“We always need newborn items,” Conway said. “It can be bottles, it can be clothes, literally anything you think a newborn would need.”

To learn more, contact Conway at Jennifer@oparms.org or visit oparms.com.