Sesame Street has tackled various lessons, such as bullying, divorce and obesity, from which it hopes its young viewership will learn. But a new program released by the Public Broadcasting System’s show, sponsored by a Department of Defense contractor, takes on a more heavy topic: when a family member goes to prison.
Sesame Street recently released a tool kit with resources for caregivers and providers to help children age 3 through 8 better understand what incarceration means and how to cope with it.
“The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers,” Sesame Street’s website stated. “It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through.”
The “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” project’s main sponsor is listed as BAE Systems, a U.K.-based defense contractor who is a major contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense as well. The Atlantic Wire called this sponsorship somewhat “awkward.” And here’s why:
The British contractor, whose U.S. subsidiary is one of the largest suppliers to the Department of Defense, depends — like many other defense contractors — on the low-overhead labor of prisoners incarcerated at for-profit facilities.
But the Atlantic Wire also noted that BAE Systems also has a philanthropic arm.
The tool kit to help children deal with incarceration of loved ones was introduced by CBS News’ Seth Doane, who was told by the woman heading the Sesame Street Workshop on the topic, Melissa Dino, that the lack of resources for families with an incarcerated member was surprising.
The tool kit gives tips for parents and caregivers about how to talk with children and prepare them for various situations involving the incarceration. It developed different methods to allow the child to express his or her feelings. And there’s even a story of a little girl whose dad is in prison and who initially has a hard time at a family fun night, which she attends with her uncle, due to the circumstances.
Sesame Street also put together a series of short videos involving a child whose father was in prison as well. The series includes the boy’s feelings of being sad, angry and often not wanting others to know about his dad.
Here’s more from CBS News regarding the project:
Dino said children sometimes think it’s their fault that a parent was incarcerated. “They have difficult, guilty feelings; they have all kinds of feelings. They’re not sure how to express them,” she said.
“Incarcerated” features a Muppet character, Alex, who has experienced a father who is in jail. The colorful character is, in effect, color-blind.
“The beauty of a Muppet,” said Dino, “is they can be any color. They can speak to so many different children. Alex is orange and he’s got blue hair, so he doesn’t speak to any one particular ethnicity or race. He speaks to all children.”
Although a study found in 2010 that one in every 28 children in the United States had a parent in prison, not everyone seems to agree with the tool kit in general. Mike Riggs for Reason’s blog wrote, “congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail.”