June 21, 2013

Sesame Street reaches out to 2.7 million American children with an incarcerated parent

Last week, Sesame Street added a new character, to whom more than 2.7 million American children can now relate. The show introduced Alex, a child whose father is in prison, in a video included in the online interactive, “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.”

The “Little Children, Big Challenges” feature aims to reach children facing complex challenges, including bullying, sibling rivalry and parental incarceration.

The site’s latest topic highlights a trend identified in a 2010 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts which found a sharp increase in the nation’s jail and prison population over the last few decades. At the time of the report, there were 2.3 million people in jail or prison compared to just 500,000 in 1980. The report noted that these figures represented the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The report found that 1.2 million inmates—more than half of the incarcerated population—were parents of children under age 18. Two-thirds of these incarcerated parents were serving time for a non-violent crime while one-third were serving time for a violent one.

As a result, there are 2.7 million minor children who have a parent in jail or prison. In other words, 1-in-28 American children (3.6%) have an incarcerated parent. Just 25 years ago, the number was 1-in-125.

A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the number of parents held in state and federal prisons increased by 79% between 1991 and midyear 2007. And half of the mothers (52%) and fathers (54%) in state prison reported that they were the primary provider for their children before their incarceration.

The Sesame Street website provides tips for caregivers to help the growing number of children affected by incarceration and features videos of both real-world children and Sesame Street characters sharing their own experiences with the subject.

Topics: Family and Relationships, Parenthood, Criminal Justice

  1. is a former editorial intern at the Pew Research Center.


  1. Suzanne Rogers4 years ago

    bravo,bravo Sesame street. At last someone who realizes there is a problem and is not afraid to adress it. These are human beings not just prisioners with families that need them. i just wish you were goverment officals, so that perhaps these downtrodden could recieve a hand up finding jobs when they get out. The first question on a job app. is “Do you have felonies” That translates to tough luck no job here for you, talk about discrimination.

  2. melissa walker4 years ago

    Good job sesame street!

  3. Marsha Buckingham4 years ago

    I am a Life Skills Program Specialist at a women’s prison. Is there a gender specific (for women) version of this presentation. This is a phenomenal tool!

    I will be using this in my classroom. Thank you!

  4. Noel4 years ago

    I believe this is an outstanding, brave thing for sesame street to do. It can assist families with communicating the situations that child (and adults) come in contact with. Every parent or guardian can not talk to their child for some reason or another. Maybe their children don’t listen to them or maybe the adult has difficult time expressing to them self in a matter that the children can understand. Never the less, this is and will be a great method for helping children to relate not only to themselves in various situation, but to their friends that might be going through the situation as well. Good job Sesame Street!