UW Madison professor helps 'Sesame Street' reach children of imp - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW Madison professor helps 'Sesame Street' reach children of imprisoned parents


MADISON (WKOW) -- It can be hard for families to explain to a young child why their parents are behind bars.

A program called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration" works to change that. It's designed for children three to eight years old. Wisconsin is one of 10 pilot states working with the Corrections Department to help children cope and learn why a parent is in jail or prison.

A UW-Madison professor worked with 'Sesame Street' to help develop the program for families. It's now being distributed.

George Williams serves a six-month sentence for two disorderly conduct charges and damage to property. He'll be released at the end of August. The past six months have been tough, away from his 4-year-old daughter, Shavonna.

"I have a 4-year-old daughter. I look forward to raising her. That's my motivation to stay out of trouble," said Williams.

The 'Sesame Street' program helps explain to young children why a parent is in jail or prison and why they have to talk to their parent through a glass window. The program stars "Alex," a 'Sesame Street' muppet character, who has a dad in jail.

UW-Madison Professor Julie Poehlmann worked with 'Sesame Street' as an advisor. After years of research she contributed to developing the content to shed light to a situation many children can't understand.

"We encourage families to be simply honest, talk to their child in a developmentally friendly way and answer their questions, very basic and simple," said Poehlmann. "Make sure to re-assure the child where the parent is and that they can't leave and it's not the child's fault."

The 'Sesame Street' episode is not played everywhere yet. It's a study designed for a target population. Poehlmann says the program distributes them to kids and families and they're doing a study and trial to see if the episode helps.

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