Although nearly 2.7 million children in America are facing the challenges of growing up while their mother or father is incarcerated, it’s not an issue that we see tackled too often in mainstream media.
But earlier this summer, the PBS children’s show, Sesame Street, featured a segment about a character that was learning to cope with having a parent in prison. As part of the “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative, Sesame Street has also produced an online tool kit to help guide families through the life changes that come with the incarceration of a family member. They’ve even created an app to accompany the tool kit.
This Saturday, the Florida Department of Corrections and Sesame Workshop, Sesame Street’s nonprofit organization, will partner together to bring the “Little Children, Big Challenges” project offline and into the real world.
During visitation hours at 25 Florida prisons, Sesame Workshop will host a program for children ages 3 through 8 who are visiting their incarcerated parents. The kids will get to read books and watch videos in Spanish and English and enjoy coloring, puzzles, and snacks. These multimedia resources will help to teach children how to express their emotions in a healthy way and open lines of communication with their parents and caregivers.
The DOC reports that 64,475 children in the state of Florida have one or both parents behind bars – a number that has increased by 80 percent over the past 20 years. “Little Children, Big Challenges” hopes to reduce the anxiety and confusion that young kids in this situation are facing.
Florida is one of 10 states launching this pilot program, with no cost to the Department of Corrections. Other states include Arkansas, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Sesame Workshop is also working to distribute their resources to organizations focusing on foster care, mental health and counseling, and early childhood education so that children and caregivers who don’t get to participate in the visitation program can still have access to the information.
As the fall season quickly approaches, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program is also revving up to strengthen the relationships of children and their incarcerated parents again this year. While many children won’t have the opportunity to visit their parents during the upcoming holiday season, they will still feel connected and loved when an Angel Tree volunteer delivers a Christmas present on behalf of their parent, along with a presentation of the Gospel. To help Angel Tree get ready for a busy Christmas season, please visit www.angeltree.org.