Meet Alex, the first Muppet to have a dad in jail. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, one in 28 children in the United States now has a parent behind bars -- more than the number of kids with a parent who is deployed -- so it's a real issue, but it's talked about far less because of the stigma.
That's why the Sesame Workshop says it created the "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration" initiative, an online tool kit intended to help kids with a parent in prison find support and comfort, and provide families with strategies and tips to talk to their children about incarceration.
Alex is blue-haired and green-nosed and he wears a hoodie – you might think he's just another carefree inhabitant of Sesame Street. But there's sorrow in Alex's voice when he talks about his father.
"I just miss him so much," he tells a friend. "I usually don't want people to know about my Dad."
It's easier for kids to hear such things from a Muppet than an adult, creators of the initiative noted.
"Coming from a Muppet, it's almost another child telling their story to the children," said Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of outreach and educational practices at the Sesame Workshop.
Alex will not be part of the regular cast on "Sesame Street," but he's playing a central role in the online tool kit.
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.
Image: Jail, via Shutterstock