Hearing a bedtime story before being tucked in at night is often the best way to ensure a child’s peaceful night’s sleep.
However, for the children of incarcerated parents, having a book read by their parents isn’t an option. This sad fact is the reality facing many families in Oklahoma, where 7,701 children have mothers in prison, and 121 women per 100,000 people are incarcerated, compared to the national average of 65.
Enter Redeeming the Family, an Oklahoma nonprofit working to preserve the bond and relationships between parent and child. According to the organization, after a parent is incarcerated, the chances of depression, suicide, poor performance in school and arrest all increase for kids.
That’s exactly why they’ve launched the Oklahoma Messages Program. Under it, volunteers go into prisons and video a mother or father talking to their children or reading them a book. The videos are then sent to the offspring, who can now see their parents for the first time in, what may be, quite a while.
These videos are an important lifeline between individuals because, for children living with their mothers, only 55 percent have visited and only 40 percent have spoken on the phone during incarceration. In its four years of operation, the program has sent videos to more than 3,000 children, 823 in 2013 alone.
These DVDs are really making a difference. Redeeming the Family conducted outcome surveys on the children to gage impact. Initially, 81 percent said that after their parent was imprisoned, they had moderate to huge increases in sadness and depression. Another 84 percent reported moderate to huge spikes in stress and anxiety. After the videos entered the children’s lives, however, 65 percent reported a decrease in feelings of sadness and depression, while 54 percent had less anger and disruptive behavior.
While the videos do not replace the presence of the actual parent, receiving them three times a year — Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — can make all the difference. Executive Director of Redeeming the Family Cheri Fuller has witnessed this first hand.
“Over and over, we hear children say it felt like my mother was in the room,” she told NewsOk.
For these children, hearing and seeing their parents is just what’s needed to induce a great night’s sleep.