Sesame Street helps children deal with incarcerated parents

May. 17, 2014 @ 09:36 AM

Last year, Sesame Street launched an initiative called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” Using familiar characters and a new character who has a parent in jail, Sesame Street created a multimedia toolkit for children, parents and caregivers. It started with 10 pilot states, but North Carolina wasn’t on the list.
Melissa Radcliff, executive director of Our Children’s Place, a statewide private nonprofit she runs from her home office in Durham, took that as a challenge. She contacted Sesame Street, who sent her the materials so that one toolkit could be available in every library branch in the state. Our Children’s Place took the materials – about 400 kits, one for every branch – to the State Library of North Carolina, which distributed them this spring. Workshops and webinars about the materials were offered to libraries, and Durham and Orange County libraries participated.
“Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” is bilingual with English and Spanish and “provides much-needed resources to support and comfort young children (ages 3–8) throughout their parents’ incarceration,” according to Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit education organization behind Sesame Street.
Sesame Street sent all the kits for free, and sent even more when Radcliff requested them to give to social services, schools, faith communities and early education programs. Then she passes feedback from those groups back to Sesame Street.
“I love the fact we have the opportunity to make this a community conversation,” Radcliff said. “Everybody knows Sesame Street and knows the Muppets. Sesame Street has given us an opportunity and also created an obligation. If they can talk about it, we can talk about it,” she said.
Radcliff said there are at least 24,000 North Carolina children who have an incarcerated parent, which breaks down to one child in every classroom.
The toolkit is not entertainment, she said, but part of a conversation parents and caregivers have with children. The DVD is broken up into chapters so they can be viewed individually. There is also a support guide for adults, a storybook called “In My Family,” and information about more resources available on the website Tips include helping children feel secure and express their feelings; talk honestly with children about their parents’ incarceration; and to stay connected.
Our Children’s Place, founded 10 years ago, targets professionals already working with children, Radcliff said. They focus on awareness and advocacy, and help at the men’s prison in Hillsborough for Parent Day. For information, visit