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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Julie L. Jones

Florida Department of Corrections
Julie L. Jones, Secretary

Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration

Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration

The number of children with an incarcerated parent has increased nearly 80% in the past 20 years. Nearly 2.7 million children have a parent in state or federal prison, yet few resources exist to support young children and families with this life-changing circumstance. In response, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, unveils its newest, bilingual (English/Spanish) initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, for families with young children, ages 3 through 8, who have an incarcerated parent and continue to develop skills for resilience. This resource will only be distributed through targeted outlets in communities by organizations, partners and individuals who reach these families.

Boy showing Murray His Drawing of Visiting Mom

Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration is designed to:

  • support, comfort, and reduce anxiety, sadness, and confusion that young children may experience during the incarceration of a parent
  • provide at-home caregivers with strategies, tips, and age-appropriate language they can use to help communicate with their children about incarceration
  • inform incarcerated parents themselves that they can parent from anywhere, and provide them with simple parenting tips highlighting the importance of communication

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Help your child to feel secure and express feelings

Reassure your child by surrounding her with reliable people and daily activities. Encourage her to share her feelings.

Sofia, Abby and Rosita comfort Alex
  • Let your child know what to expect during everyday activities. Tell her who will take her to school and who will pick her up.
  • Provide your child with a comfort item to keep during the day, such as a paper heart or family photo.
  • Ask your child questions to help her open up. You might notice a negative behavior and say, "Did something happen today that made you feel sad?"

Talk honestly with your child

It's important to tell your child the truth about his parent's incarceration. It's the best way to help him feel loved and cared for.

  • If you do not provide information about the incarceration, your child may come up with his own mistaken reason for his parent's absence. Let your child know that the incarceration is not his fault.
  • Be patient as your child works to understand what has happened. You may need to explain the situation several times. Let him know he's not alone.
Mother and two children visiting Father in Prison

Stay connected

When you involve the incarcerated parent in your child's life, you show your child that she will always be cared for.

  • Visits can be positive for children, but jails can seem scary. Break the ice with games. List favorite colors, music, or sports teams. Describe something and ask your child to guess it.
  • Phone calls are a great way to keep in touch. Help your child think of things to tell her parent. Give her a picture of the parent to hold during the call.
  • Use pen and paper to write letters. If your child can't yet write, ask her to tell you what to write; she can draw pictures to go with the words.

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