By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Image courtesy facebook.com

Every year New York City attracts thousands of people bringing in the New Year.

Gathered in Times Square are crowds waiting to watch the famous ball drop at the crack of midnight.    

What is hidden behind the gala of toasting champagne glasses, kisses, confetti, and streamers are about 105,000 remote New York City children who have parents spending New Year’s Eve behind bars. 

Thanks to progress the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents made during 2013, this year these kids may have reason to celebrate.  

The year 2014 holds a hopeful future for these inner city youngsters because the needs of children with incarcerated parents has finally been addressed and changes are underway.

Tanya Krupat, program director of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents at the Osborne Association, confirms two crucial advancements were made this year to benefit children of incarcerated parents. Acknowledgment of a population that has been in the dark for decades finally came to the attention of The White House and Congress. 

Since one of every 28 children in the U.S. has a parent in prison, which is now higher than the number of kids that have a deployed parent, children’s entertainment media has capitalized on this stigmatized issue.

Sesame Street issued its toolkit called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” and created a Muppet that has an incarcerated parent. Alex is a new Muppet that wears a hoodie, with his head hung down in shame. Alex expresses how much he misses his dad in prison. Last Father’s Day, Alex was the featured character in the visitation room at Riker’s Island Penitentiary in New York.    (http://www.today.com/moms/sesame-street-creates-first-muppet-have-parent-jail-6C10345061)

Ms. Krupat, director of New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents is motivated to update archaic policies that have blocked children of incarcerated parents from having regular contact with their parents. Currently, prison rules only mandate landline calls for inmates to connect with their loved ones. In today’s modern world, most children do not have access to landline phones. They are becoming a necessity of the past and most young people’s communication is transmitted through their cell phones.

Adopting new rules about cell phone use for children of incarcerated parents and providing them with cell phones the kids can use when they need to reach out to their parents is one of the simple initiatives of the organization. This one alteration of polices alone could alleviate the silent emotional anguish children of incarcerated parents go through during long holiday weekends, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and every other holiday. Then there is the mental pain and suffering parents behind bars go through during the holidays and every other day of the year when it is difficult to connect with their children.

Another area of concern Krupat is working on is mental health problems for children of incarcerated parents. The group is insisting the state of New York recruit mental health professionals with backgrounds in innovative approaches that specifically help this population of children cope with grief and loss issues they are experiencing. At the present time educational institutions do not offer a curriculum specifically designed for human service professionals to treat children with mental health problems associated with incarcerated parents.     

Ms. Krupat recognizes a need for education that focuses on contemporary psychology directed towards helping children of incarcerated parents. She is an advocate for adding a curriculum to licensing requirements that social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and pediatricians use to broaden their spectrum of knowledge. However, Krupat is encouraged by a Statewide Coordinating Council of Incarcerated Parents that is striving to find these children.

Krupat classifies these statewide attempts to improve the current crisis with this obscure situation as a “work in progress” that has a long journey ahead of them before children of incarcerated parents are validated as a casualties of the correctional system; a system that has nearly seven million people under correctional supervision in the U.S.; more than two million of whom are in a jail or prison.       

Mike Riggs, a controversial blogger for Reason.com congratulates America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail. 

It is a sign of the times when a legendary children’s show adds a puppet character to educate children about the impact of having a parent incarcerated.     

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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