JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) - National statistics show an increase in the number of kids who are following their parents’ path to prison. The question is; what Missouri is doing to reverse this trend. Joe Bradley volunteers as a big brother for 6-year-old Ja’Shaun who lives with his grandma because both of his parents are in prison. Bradley has had to contact Ja’Shaun’s teachers before about him causing trouble in school.
“You know, he’s been having a lot of trouble at school and getting in trouble all the time.”
He says the one-on-one attention he is able to give Ja’Shaun helps to resolve problems like that. Bradley also says cases like Ja’Shaun’s are more extreme because there is such limited contact with a parent who is in prison.
Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi is one of many who acknowledge that this trend of children following in the footsteps of their offender parents exists.
“Well, you know, the children of incarcerated parents are 7 times more likely to go to prison than other kids.”
Lombardi says the state already provides some services to help children with offender parents, but says he thinks there’s a better option.
“Well obviously the Department of Social Services would be responsible in terms of finding foster homes and that kind of thing. But I think the best thing that can happen are volunteer groups that come forward and help out kids like that.”
Volunteer groups like Big Brother Big Sister … a youth mentoring organization which Bradley volunteers for. The program provides one-on-one mentoring to children whose lives have been affected by drugs and crime.
Kate Dopuch is a staff member for the Big Brother Big Sister program of Eastern Missouri. She says she sees the actions of criminal parents and siblings causing the younger members to commit crimes as well. In fact, Dopuch says it is normally all the children in a family that seek counseling … not just one.
“Once a parent or a caregiver elects that they want to work with Big Brother Big Sister and have a mentor in the life of their child, they typically elect for us to serve their entire family.”
Dopuch says that with more resources the state could improve and increase the help available to children affected by crime-ridden households. But she also says she believes the state is doing its job with the resources that are available.
“As far as the state of Missouri, we’ve really got a fantastic partnership where there is already such a strong communication with the Department of Corrections.”
Stephanie Krauss is the President and CEO of the Shearwater Education Foundation in St. Louis. Shearwater provides an education to kids who have previously dropped out of high school. She says she sees an opposite effect here … where the students whose families are in jail are the most dedicated to getting an education.
“The motivation level is higher and the humility of saying, ‘I don’t really know how to avoid this’ or ‘This is my experience and what I’ve been exposed to. I need new strategies, I need a different way so that I don’t end up in the same position as my parents’.”
Krauss says many of the students who come from families with one or more members in jail have committed crimes themselves. A Big Brother Big Sister program director says the number of kids enrolling with one or both parents in prison has only increased.
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