To ensure that children whose mothers are incarcerated have a safe and nurturing environment where their basic needs, such as clothing, housing, transportation, food are met with kindness and respect, so that these children are afforded the same opportunities as other children who live in a loving stable environment. Operation Open Arms, Inc. will provide support and assistance to the mothers of the children upon their release from jail or prison. This assistance may include but is not limited to, referrals for job training, parenting classes, housing and transportation. Operation Open Arms, Inc. will work in partnership with Metro United Way, The Healing Place for Women, The Metro Re-Entry Task force, and their member agencies to provide these services to the mothers.
Cathy and Irv Bailey
Operation Open Arms, Inc
Operation Open Arms, Inc is a private child placing agency, licensed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Our mission is to provide a loving, nurturing, home environment to children whose mothers are incarcerated. Operation Open Arms recruits, trains, licenses and provides assistance to foster families to make placement of these children successful. Financial support for this charity comes through fundraisers and other generous donations. Operation Open Arms, Inc. was licensed by the State of Kentucky on July 24, 2003 as a private child-placement agency. This license allows us to provide foster care and adoption services for children throughout Kentucky.
Our agency has also been recognized nationally for its mission of caring for children whose mothers are in prison. In March, 2003, Cathy Bailey, founder and president of Operation Open Arms received the “2003 Unsung Heroines” award for her dedication to the community. Cathy was nominated for this award by both Senator Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on behalf of her work with Operation Open Arms.
Executive Director, Shannon Dahmer MSSW, LCSW
Shannon received her Master’s in Social Work with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisville. Shannon’s previous employment includes working with abused and neglected children in a hospital setting and community mental health outpatient therapy with individuals and families. These experiences influenced her desire to seek out opportunities for change in the family system. Shannon believes that breaking the family cycle of abuse, crime, and neglect, is the first and most important step in the effort of ensuring the safety and security of these children. Shannon joined Operation Open Arms, Inc. in February, 2018 as the Executive Director.
Administrator, Sharon Neville
Along with her husband, Frank Neville, Sharon began taking in children whose mothers were incarcerated at the women’s prison in Pewee Valley, Kentucky in 1995. Over the years, there have been 8 children who have come through their home and some now help with the mission of Operation Open Arms. In 2001, Sharon and Frank became the pilot family for Operation Open Arms and enjoyed a relationship with the founders, staff and many other families who came on board. Believing so much in the mission and purpose of OOA, Sharon came to work in the office in 2010, first as a volunteer and finally as an employee in 2013. Sharon is the office manager and director of development.
Board of Directors
Cathy Bailey, Chairman
Linda Yeager, Co-Chair
Irving Bailey, Treasurer
Meredith Hernandez, Member
John McCarthy, III, Member
Gale Lively, Member
Shari Hagan, Secretary
Judge Paula Sherlock, Member
Todd P’Pool, Member
Honorary Board Members:
Jack Oliver, Lehman Brothers
Dawn Hoffman, Philanthropist
Karen Sherry, Sr. V.P. ASCAP
Jean Frazier, volunteer
Jennie Rees, Turf Writer
Understanding Children with Mothers in Prison
Parental incarceration creates many challenges for children and families. These include, but are not limited to: financial difficulties, instability in relationships, school behavior, performance difficulties, low self-esteem, and feelings of shame.
Research indicates that incarceration of a mother at a child’s infancy can lend to insecure fragmented future attachments. In fact one estimate (Baunach, 1985) suggests that 70% of young children with incarcerated mothers experience both emotional and psychological difficulties.
Just How Many
A 2006 report in the American Journal of Public Health states that between 6% – 10% of women are pregnant at the time they are incarcerated. In 1998 alone 1,400 women gave birth while incarcerated. Often these mothers are allowed only a day of contact with their newborn before having to surrender their infant and return to prison. This practice lends to separation and future attachment difficulties for both the infant and mother. Operation Open Arms, Inc. is committed to fostering and aiding with the bonding between mother and child.
Facts and Stats
- More than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison
- Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. has increased by 57%.
- 75% of incarcerated women are mothers.
- The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is 8 years old; 22% of the children are under the age of five.
- Ten percent of incarcerated mothers have a child in a foster home or state care.
- The average (first) stay in foster care for a child with an incarcerated mother is 3.9 years.
- Children in foster care with an incarcerated mother are more likely to “age out” of the foster care system.
- Reunification with their mother is 21% for children of incarcerated mothers versus * 40% for all other foster children
- 6% – 10% of women that are incarcerated are pregnant