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Mentoring program helps children of inmates cope
More than 400 Des Moines-area children who have a parent in an Iowa prison could benefit from a national mentoring program that is looking for social service agencies across the state to host the program.
Children “do the time right alongside of their parents,” said Lisa Thorpe-Vaugn, president of Non-Profit Leadership Training Institute and a program administrator from Pittsburg, Pa.
Caregiver’s Choice is a national program that pairs adult mentors with children who have a parent who is incarcerated. Creative Visions, a Des Moines social service agency led by Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D-Des Moines), plans to offer the program, Abdul-Samad said.
Thorpe-Vaughn said the problems of incarceration affect children in urban, suburban and rural communities across the country. There are 10 million children between the ages of 4-18 who have one or both parents in prison, she said.
“This is one of the worst epidemics,” she said. “We could fill school districts up just with children who have parents incarcerated.”
Children of incarcerated parents face a higher risk of being incarcerated, she said. About 65 percent of the children of prisoners will one day find themselves incarcerated, said Thorpe-Vaughn who visited Iowa prisons last week during a recruitment effort iniatiated by Rev. M.D. Eppright. She spoke to Iowa prisoners — some who had 10 or more children, she said. The average prisoner has about three children, she said.
Amy Shull, 34, spent eight years in the women’s prison in Mitchellville and will be on parole for four years. She applauds the program and the fact that mentors continue working with children once their parent returns home from prison.
“This is a very good program for us mothers who were in there and who are trying to improve our lives and want to see our childen do well,” Shull said recently during an informational event at Creative Visions.
The federally-funded program began eight years ago with mentors from churches and universities. The mentors were asked to commit one hour each week for a year. The program was successful at finding mentors, but struggled to find the children to mentor even though statistically, organizers knew there were plenty of children needing help, she said.The mentors, who must undergo background checks and home visits and who are matched with a same gender mentee, get a $1,000 voucher that is given to a non-profit agency of their choice for use in mentoring the child. The agency gets the money to support the match and support the child, Thorpe-Vaughn said. The money could, for example, be used to pay for educational materials if the mentor noticed the child was struggling academically, she said.
The mentor program is already underway in social service programs in Davenport, Sioux Falls, Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, she said.