Many studies have been done on this question, and the answer has been a resounding YES! The Federal Government has come to recognize that there is a difinite stigma among the children of incarcerated parents that causes these children to stagnate socially and academically.
As the director of a program that places senior volunteers in public settings such as schools, day ares and community centers, I have seen the benefit of these children having mentors/tutors. Essentially our volunteers “grandparent” these special needs children. It is not a fool-proof solution, but it’s the best one going.
As a rule, these children get little personal attention at home. The remaining parent or guardian is often strapped for time and money, not to mention pre-occupied with the stigma that an incarcerated spouse or offspring carries in society.
The most difficult part of placing these children with mentors is actually finding out who they are. We have been striving to build this initiative for three years and are just now making the right contacts to identify the children whose parent(s) are in jail or prison.
We have partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters in their “Amachi” program. They have gained access to a data base that identifies these children. We also have made contact with the local sheriffs (we serve three counties) to ask the inmates if they would like to have their children mentored. They fill out a form for each of their children, and we notify the school or day care that the parents have requested a mentor for their child(ren).
Every report shows marked progress in both social skills and grades after a reasonable amount of time. Our volunteers are there every day, not just once a week. There is consistency in our program that other mentoring programs do not have. Our school volunteers often serve in the summer at boys’ and girls’ clubs to maintain contact with their mentees.
In observing the mentors with the mentees we see real relationships develop. The children do not feel “judged” by their parent’s or guardian’s situation. They see a light at the end of the tunnel. Our volunteers model good behavior for them as well as helping them function in the classroom and on the playground. They eat lunch with them as well. No one forces himself on a child. The volunteers are trained on how to ease into a relationship, building trust and friendship along the way.
The very nature of mentoring gives the mentee self confidence and self-esteem, a lack of which is a major reason that young people commit crimes – that and the fact that it is a way of life in their family. Someone actually wants to spend time with them, listen to them, and explain things to them and show them that they can break the “criminal behavior chain”. This is a group of children who benefit as much or more than any other from having mentors.
We have also had mentors/tutors serving in a juvenile incarceration facility. Though this might seem a little un-nerving(and it is at first when you hear that gate clang shut behind you), these young men got very attached to their “grannies”. Race was not an issue, nor was social status. Most of the mentees in the facility were a different race than their mentors. That never interfered with their relationships. Our mentors were instructed to answer ques as honestly as possible and to not pry. We knew the boys would talk when they felt comfortable. It rarely took very long.
Ours is the Foster Grandparent Program. It is a federally funded program that helps both seniors to feel needed again and children and youth who have special needs. We are always recruiting. Check out our web site at Seniorcorps.com