New Sesame Street initiative taps U of M researcher for roll out

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sesame Workshop Courtesy: Sesame Workshop

A new Sesame Workshop initiative will get big backing from a University of Minnesota researcher. Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration supports families with young children who have an incarcerated parent, through the use of interactive and age-appropriate resources. Minnesota is one of just 10 pilot states involved with the effort.

The program was highlighted at the White House in Washington, D.C.  Rebecca Shlafer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics, took part in the event.  Shlafer was joined by other experts in this field from across the country in an effort to call attention to the importance of this serious issue.

“These materials are an exceptional way to reduce the anxiety, sadness and confusion these children may experience when a parent is in prison,” said Shlafer.  “These resources provide an incredible opportunity to raise awareness of this growing public health issue.”

Rebecca Shlafer portraitRead more from Shlafer about why this program is so important.

Shlafer will be distributing the materials to families at the Washington County Jail as part of a pilot research project over the next 18 months, conducted in partnership with Julie Poehlmann at the University of Wisconsin and funded by the Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTSI) at the University of Minnesota. The resources will also be available through community organizations and volunteer advocates close to this issue, including Volunteers of America – Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration is designed to:

  • Support, comfort, and reduce anxiety, sadness, and confusion that young children may experience during the incarceration of a parent
  • Provide at-home caregivers with strategies, tips, and age-appropriate language they can use to help communicate with their children about incarceration
  • Inform incarcerated parents themselves that they can parent from anywhere, and provide them with simple parenting tips highlighting the importance of communication

The content kit features a newly developed Muppet named Alex, whose father is incarcerated. Alex is featured prominently in the materials, including a DVD, a storybook, a guide for parents and caregivers, an app for adults and more.  The full resource room is available here.

“Sesame Workshop has always been at the forefront of creating resources for families with young children to help address some of life’s most difficult issues,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop. “Little Children, Big Challenge: Incarceration tackles a very difficult topic, one for which there are scant resources to help young children, and best of all, it approaches these difficult transitions in the way that only Sesame Street and our trusted Muppets can.”

Other states involved in the pilot rollout program include Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.