More children of Missouri inmates will be teamed with mentors in the coming months thanks to a federal grant announced last week.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boone County, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson City and Kansas City, has received a $382,000 grant — part of $35 million in grants nationwide — from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services to expand a program for children of incarcerated parents. The organization will continue to receive the same amount for the next three years.
The Mentoring Children of Prisoners program will provide mentors for 300 Missouri children who currently have parents in prison. The three agencies have been given permission from their local United Way charities to use a portion of their allocated funds to match the grant. This will provide the additional funding needed to support the program, bringing the total to $512,000.
Children who have a parent in prison are seven times more likely to go to prison themselves, said Georgalu Swoboda, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boone County.
In the days since learning about receiving the grant, the three chapters involved have been able to start discussions about the new program, said Rebecca Gordon, director of development and public relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boone County.
“Now we have to sit down and figure out how we’re going to administer the program,” Gordon said. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boone County already provides mentors to 92 children who currently have incarcerated parents. With the grant, they will be able to provide mentors to 217 children of parents in prison this year.
Swoboda said between Jefferson City, Kansas City and Boone County, there are more than 11,000 children known to have parents in prison. All these children would be eligible for mentors.
Swoboda said the program was founded several years ago by the Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., the former mayor of Philadelphia. Rev. Goode was the child of an incarcerated parent and received mentoring in his youth. The program, originally called Amachi — a Nigerian word meaning “who knows but what God has brought us through this child” — works with local churches to recruit mentors.
The Rev. Goode will be coming to Columbia to kick off the program sometime later this year, Swoboda said.
Swoboda said the grant money will be used for recruiting, interviewing, screening, checking references, training mentors and matching them up with children, and supervising the matches.
“Now we have a mission to serve children who have a parent in prison,” Swoboda said. “We will be doing no more than we have always done, we’re just serving a new population.”
The Mentoring Children of Prisoners program will provide mentors for children ages 4 to 15. Gordon said working with younger children “gives us a better chance to intervene and break the cycle.”
“The earlier we can get the children, the better the results are,” Gordon said.
A staff member will serve as a liaison between the Department of Corrections and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in an attempt to recruit more children who need mentors. Swoboda said schools don’t ask if a child has a parent in prison making it difficult to identify the children who need mentors.
Children of incarcerated parents is a big issue, said John Fougere, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
“If you can reach out to them now, future crimes can be prevented,” Fougere said.
To better serve the additional children, Swoboda said Big Brothers Big Sisters will be hiring more staff. The grant will help to pay for these additional staff members.
Last year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boone County 1,000 children. Six years ago the program had 150 children, Swoboda said.