Incarceration Devastating for Kids: How Big Bird Is Helping

JUNE 07, 2016
Megan Daily
When even Sesame Street's Muppets start trying to help, it's clear something needs to be done.

The problem: there are an estimated five million children in the US who have a parent in jail. The situation can take a catastrophic toll on a child's development.
 
Psychiatrists attending the American Psychiatric Association’s recent annual meeting in Atlanta, GA, last month said they are seeking ways to help these kids.
 
“Families impacted by criminal justice are some of the most vulnerable families in the country,” said Joyce Arditti, PhD, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Virginia Polytechnic. She presented her own qualitative research on the subject.
 
The discussion was chaired by Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar Courtney McMickens, MD, MPH of Yale University and Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, MD, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
 
Presenters identified multiple associated stressors and shared clinical best practices for improving outcomes for these at-risk families as well.  
 
They noted that the  situation is so pervasive that even Sesame Street is pitching in.  (In photo at left, above, Muppet Alex, whose father is in jail,. is comforted by Muppet Amy. Credit: Gil Vaknin )

"We found there were very few materials out there for children of the incarcerated," said Jeanette Betancourt, EdD, Senior Vice President of US Social Impact at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit education organization affiliated with Sesame Street in a recent interview following the meeting. 

Many of these children "indicated no one had told them why their parent was gone, and the caregivers often thought it was better not to talk about it," she said.

That can result in feelings of "complete isolation," for these kids, Betancourt noted.



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