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Resilience and the Families of the Incarcerated

The number of incarcerated adults has increased rapidly in federal and state prisons reaching and exceeding 1.4 million in 2007. More than half of these incarcerated adults are parents, whose minor children make up 2.3 percent of the minor population in the United States. Further, thirty to fifty percent of incarcerated parents had lived with their children up until their incarceration, and most say that their children currently live with the other parent or close relative (Kjellstrand, Cearley, Eddy, Foney, & Martinez, 2012).

Parents play a vital role in their children's lives by providing guidance, limits, stimulation, and interactive support for problem solving (Muray & Muray, 2010). When a parent is suddenly missing from their children's lives because they are incarcerated, these children are considered an "at risk" group (Phillips, Erkanlj, Keeler, Costello, & Angold, 2006). After the incarceration of a parent, a young child is more likely to experience a number of difficulties. These difficulties include, but are not limited to: traumatic separation, loneliness, stigma, confusion, unstable childcare arrangements, strained parenting, reduction in family income, and relocation. These factors can all play a role in the finding that children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior (Murray, Farrington, & Sekol, 2012). The impact of parental incarceration on the development of children ages 2-6 years old is greater than any other age group (Myers, Smarsh, Amulind-Hagen, & Kennon, 1999). These children are more likely to experience regression of maturity and increased dependence on the other caregiver. They are more susceptible to feeling guilt, shame, and empathy as well as being terrified, shocked, or stressed as a result of the incarceration of their parent.

The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of the Sesame Street's multimedia toolkit (English & Spanish versions) - Little Children, BIG Challenges: Incarceration. Specifically, to help parents communicate with their children about the incarceration of the other parent and to help build their children's resilience. This parent intervention is designed to proactively help children build resilience factors during challenging situations.

If interested, please contact Dr. Geraldine Oades-Sese and the Sesame Street Resilience Team at (732) 344-0820 or e-mail