June 17, 2013

By Graydon Gordian

Sesame Visits Families at Rikers Island

The 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent are in a uniquely difficult situation. They feel a number of complex emotions: sadness, shame, guilty, anger. Yet they often don’t feel they are allowed to talk about their experience, partly because the adults in their life oftentimes don’t know how to talk about the experience either. That’s why Sesame Workshop launched Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, a multimedia, bi-lingual (English/Spanish) outreach initiative with stories featuring Sesame Street’s beloved characters that help children feel reassured, loved and supported. 

On Saturday, Sesame Street took its message of love and support to Rikers Island, a correctional facility in New York City. Gordon, Rosita and Abby Cadabby performed for inmates and their families, and the kits, which include videos for children and guides for parents to help them navigate this complex topic, were distributed. After the event, Winette Saunders-Halyard, the assistant commissioner for community partnerships and program development at Rikers Island, said having the cast and characters from the show at the facility was fantastic.

“The kids were ecstatic,” she said. “No one can make a child smile the way Sesame Street can.”

She explained that, given the complex ways in which incarceration affects children, it was great to have an organization like Sesame Workshop raising awareness about the issue.

“Sesame Street is expert at dissecting complex issues and making them child friendly,” she said.
The way the Muppets talk to children really makes the children feel comfortable. An adult could say the exact same thing, but a Muppet’s message is so much more powerful.”

“I don’t think people feel comfortable talking about it,” she continued. “These materials will help raise awareness about the impact of incarceration on children and help remove the stigma associated with it.”

To learn more about Sesame Street’s trip to Rikers Island and the ways in which we’re working to help children with an incarcerated parent, watch the above video. To see the material we have created specifically for children affected by incarceration, click here. To see photos from Sesame Street‘s trip to Rikers Island, click here.

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