Why We Need to Care About Children With Incarcerated Parents

"Daddy, I never knew there were other kids with fathers in prison."

I felt the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes but I convinced myself I needed to keep it together at least until the session was over. I was leading a debriefing with a group of incarcerated men who had just participated in Parent Day with their visiting children. The day had been declared a success by all involved. Now the organizers were asking the men what they learned about their children, perhaps even something surprising, and what they would do differently next time.

We showed the fathers the Sesame Street DVD the night before Parent Day, then gave them the option of watching it with their children the next day. Some did, others didn't. One of the men shared his daughter's comment above. Her words reminded me again how isolated children of incarcerated parents can feel. Even more striking for me is that she said this after having spent a day with 22 other children who also have a father in prison.

We hope that giving that family the opportunity to watch the DVD has provided them with a starting point for future conversations. We have provided the kits to more than 700 individuals, organizations, and families across North Carolina who are looking to do just that: start the conversation in a low-key way, with the help of a known and respected entity, Sesame Street.

Thanks to a wonderful contact at the State Library of North Carolina, we have worked to make sure there is a Sesame Street toolkit in every public library branch across our state. Many of the library staff members have also attended regional workshops that provided information about these children and efforts across the state to support them. Our 2015 goal is to provide the kits to school libraries.

For those people who say to us," I've never thought about these children, not because I don't care but because no one's asked me to," the Sesame Street toolkit is our way of saying, "Please think about them."

Children are surrounded by adults in their lives. Our job is to make sure that those people understand what it means for a child to have an incarcerated parent and what it takes to create a community where these children are recognized, supported, and encouraged to share their stories.