UM group offers support for children of incarcerated parents

A new support group at the University of Mississippi aims to provide support and offer a voice for students whose parents are incarcerated.

While membership is limited to Ole Miss students, faculty or staff with an interest in helping children and youth develop their full potential and agree to volunteer in one or more of the organization’s activities, the meeting is open to the public.

“The overall purpose of the organization is to facilitate and promote mentoring relationships with children whose parents are incarcerated, in order to enable those children to reach their full potential and become productive, caring and responsible citizens,” said Asya Branch, junior integrated marketing communications major and president of SCIP. “We will achieve this goal through education, career programs, character leadership, health, life skills and the arts.”

Branch is the daughter of a previously incarcerated parent and became interested in starting the new group after she met several others on campus who either had similar experiences or knew families who did.

“I wanted to organize this group because it is an overlooked topic that needs an advocate and an increase in awareness,” said Branch, who was named UM’s 2018 Most Beautiful. “Service is one of my passions and having the opportunity to serve those who have been through the same or similar circumstances as myself allows me to truly connect and make a difference.”

In addition to being named UM’s 2018 Most Beautiful, Branch was a contestant in the Miss Mississippi pageant whose platform involved mentoring children of incarcerated parents.

Deetra Wiley, applications analyst-business communications specialist in the university’s Office of Information Technology, serves as SCIP’s staff adviser.

“I want to start it off with a huge awareness of this organization allowing others to get involved,” Wiley said. “Dr. Randall Rhodes, adjunct professor in legal studies, will be our guest speaker via Adobe Connect. He will share his work with this population of children and disadvantaged youth.”

Rhodes is the chief justice officer for the 32nd Judicial District Circuit of Missouri. In 2016, he was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to serve on the Juvenile Standards Work Group that produced the Missouri Juvenile Officer Policy and Procedures Manual.

He recently was approved by the Missouri Department of Corrections to create a pilot program expanding inmate visitation with their children through video conferencing.

“I am hoping to get from this some suggestions on how to better support youth before they get college age, but also listen to the students at the university,” Rhodes said. “As an instructor, I want to know what I could do to be more supportive.”

Wiley is a doctoral student in the university’s higher education program and says she is focusing her dissertation on children of incarcerated parents.

“One of SCIP’s goals is to work in conjunction with area agencies, churches, schools and civic organizations to provide at the local level specific mentoring relationships to assist children achieving the goals set for them by their teachers, leaders and parents,” she said. “SCIP does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, group affiliation, handicap/disability or veteran status.”