Posts Tagged ‘ incarceration ’

The Children You Never Hear About

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

There’s a large group of kids in this country who aren’t discussed very often. They’re the 2.7 million children whose parents are incarcerated. That works out to 1 in 28 children–or roughly one child per classroom. Did you have any idea so many kids are experiencing the fear and confusion and embarrassment and sadness that come with having a parent in jail or prison? I didn’t.

When our friends at Sesame Street learned about them, they took action. “We started to realize how many children are impacted and no one is talking about it,” says Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., vice president of Outreach and Educational Practices, Sesame Workshop. “No one is representing the needs of children and caregivers and the parents themselves.” So this became the focus of Sesame’s newest installment in its resiliency initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration. Launching today, it’s an entire set of resources in English and Spanish including a DVD and video series, storybook, activity pages, tip sheets for parents and caregivers, as well as an app (available on IOS and Android platforms).

The goal of the initiative is twofold. One is to help caregivers–parents, grandparents, extended family members, foster parents–realize they’re not alone and that it’s important to talk to children about their situation. The tip sheet mentioned above provides caregivers with the best language to use with young kids and how to help them manage their emotions. The other aim is to help the incarcerated parent connect with his or her child. In the video, which includes the stories of real children, we meet a young boy who, with his father and sister, draws pictures for his imprisoned mom (that’s them in the photo above). She then colors them and mails them back, and this simple ritual has become very meaningful.

Watching the videos, you can’t help but wonder how to help these children. But it’s less about help and more about support, explains Dr. Betancourt. “This is a very isolated community–many families don’t necessarily want to talk about it. But if they do open up, the best thing you can do is simply support that family. It’s not even doing something ‘special’–it’s just being friends, just as you would with any other family.”

As always, Sesame will work hard to make sure their materials get into the right hands, giving them directly to prisons, family courts, and national and local organizations that help affected children. What’s so amazing about all of Sesame’s toolkits–and there are more than 20, on topics including divorce, healthy eating, and preparing for an emergency–is that the contents are completely free. They’re not on the actual “Sesame Street” TV show, but everything’s available online and can be downloaded here. If you know one of the millions of children who have an incarcerated parent, please encourage her caregiver or teacher to take a look.

Image by Gil Vaknin, courtesy of Sesame Workshop, 2013

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