In a 2010 report from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), it was reported that among Filipinos in prison, around 40 percent were married, and while the report did not include the corresponding figures for inmates who have kids, one can easily deduce that a great number of them are physically estranged from their families and children.
As a result, these kids go through periods of significant stress, confusion or depression, depending on how the situation is explained to them, and whether a capable and dependable caregiver is attending to their needs.
In an explanatory note by 3rd district Laguna representative Ivy Arago for the proposed House Bill No. 6692, “the incarceration of parents affects the emotional, psychological and financial development of a child who is forced to be separated from their parents.”
Former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago also discussed in another explanatory note the challenges of parental incarceration, some of which include: “financial instability and material hardship; instability in family relationships and structure; school behavior and performance problems”, among others.
In the U.S., the reality is nothing short of saddening, as one in 28 American children (2.7 million, to be more exact) are reported to have a parent in jail.
It was thus a significant move for Sesame Workshop to come up with a new Muppet, Alex, as part of their online kit “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration”. This project aims to provide children with parents in jail to find guidance, comfort and support, giving advice to families on how they can explain incarceration to their child. The kit contains a DVD and video series, along with activity materials, tip sheets, and app (IOS and Android-compatible).
Alex wears a hoodie and has blue hair, orange skin and a bright green nose. He’s the first Muppet to have a father in prison. In one episode where fellow kiddie Muppets ask Alex to join their dads in making cars, he replies, “He can’t do it. He’s somewhere else. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Coming from a Muppet, it’s almost another child telling their story to the children,” said Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of Sesame Workshop’s outreach and educational practices group, in an interview by Today.com. In another interview, Carol Burton, executive director of Centerforce, a non-profit dedicated to supporting families impacted by incarceration, said “Children of parents behind bars often feel sadness, shame and guilt about the situation, so they need to know they are loved and that the incarceration is not their fault.”