NCCD Now: Children of Incarcerated Parents

Our Staff


NCCD Now: Children of Incarcerated Parents

Erin Hanusa, Senior Communications Manager, NCCD

More than half of the men and women who make up the US prison population are parents—a situation that leaves 1.7 million kids feeling the absence of Mom or Dad each morning and night.

Children of incarcerated parents often face numerous challenges. They grieve the loss of daily physical and emotional interaction with a parent. They must navigate some period of growing up without that parent’s daily guidance. They experience internal confusion and external stigma about if and how they can talk about their situation with friends and family.

These children may endure yet more separation if no one is available to care for them when a parent is taken to jail or prison. Many end up in the child welfare system, placed in foster care and sometimes separated from their siblings. As they grow up, obstacles continue: They are at increased risk for mental health problems as well as school failure and dropping out, all of which in turn place children at greater risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Last month, Sesame Street debuted a new character, Alex, a Muppet whose father is in prison. Alex is part of Sesame Workshop’s new toolkit titled “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” The bilingual, online toolkit includes videos, activities, and handouts to help children name and talk about their feelings, as well as materials for caregivers to facilitate discussion with children. The goal, as blogger Lynn Chwatsky of Sesame Workshop describes it, is to enhance children’s resilience and support their well-being.

This incredible resource is the product of two years of work on the part of Sesame Workshop and experts in the field, a few of whom will write about their work on the project for us this month. Beyond that, the toolkit has created a tidal wave of popular attention to the issue of children with incarcerated parents, which can hopefully be turned into lasting impact on this issue.

During the month of July, we will feature guest and staff blog posts from people across the United States who are working to improve the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated. We’ll also hear from individuals who experienced the incarceration of a parent and learn firsthand about how it impacted their lives. And while we won’t hear directly from Alex, the new Muppet, he will be available online to share his story and let children of incarcerated parents know they are not alone in their struggles.

Our bloggers this month (list and links will be updated as posts go live):

Lynn Chwatsky, Vice President of Outreach Initiatives and Partners at Sesame Workshop, who oversees the "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration" initiative

Nichole Carlisle, Program Associate, NCCD

Julie Poehlmann, PhD, Professor and Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison

Cynthia Burnson, PhD student in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Hilary Runion, PhD student in Human and Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Alisha Murdock, Peer Mentor, Project WHAT!

Nate Williams, recent parolee of the California prison system

Yasmine Arrington, Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS

Heather Haberman, Program Associate, NCCD

Tara Regan Anderson, Policy and Grants Manager of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon

Akiba Bradford, Research Associate, NCCD

Markita Mays, Clinical Social Worker, University of California San Francisco

Shellie Solomon, Managing Director of Service Network for Children of Inmates and CEO of Justice and Security Strategies, Inc.

Dee Ann Newell, Executive Director of Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind

Carol F. Burton, Executive Director of Centerforce and Co-Chair of Alameda County of Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership

Erin Hanusa is the Senior Communications Manager at NCCD.

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