In the United States, 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent. This not only poses the financial and emotional struggles of having an absent parent, but also sets kids up for failure.

Children of incarcerated parents are more likely than their peers to develop behavioral and learning disorders and drop out of school.

Enter the Children’s Literacy Foundation’s (CLiF) Children of Prison Inmates program, which serves five prisons in New Hampshire and Vermont, and sends books home to children all over the country. CLiF’s storytellers visit our partnering prisons to model storytelling techniques and talk with inmates about ways to tell and talk about stories with kids, even if they’re not strong readers themselves (roughly 70 percent of inmates are considered functionally illiterate).

CLiF presenters try to eliminate some of the intimidation inmates may feel about reading with their kids and suggest tips for helping kids develop strong literacy skills while creating a special bond between parents and their children. After each seminar, participating inmates choose new children’s books for their kids, grandkids or nieces and nephews, write personal notes in them and CLiF’s volunteers mail them to the children.

In 2019, CLiF sent 24,080 books home to children with an incarcerated parent and served inmates in Berlin and Concord in New Hampshire, as well as Rutland and South Burlington in Vermont.

One participating inmate wrote: “My daughters and I love the seminars. I am not able to be there and actually read them books. Since I started attending them, we have started storytelling at night on the phone, either I will tell one or they may but there is always a story.

We have also turned the seminars into an exciting time for us. When I know there is one coming, I talk it up a few weeks before, then the day of the seminar I tell them that the books are coming. I never tell them what they are, so it is always a surprise. I love it and they do as well.

This really all started because of CLiF. Thank you. They will be waiting very impatiently for their new books.”

Another wrote: “The books I send give us another avenue of interaction and they get so excited when they get the opportunity to share what they’ve read with me.”

The goals of the program are to help kids at-risk of developing low-literacy skills to love reading and writing and do it more often, to provide access to high-quality reading materials and to help incarcerated parents bolster their bonds with their children. Happily, 98 percent of surveyed inmates said that the Children of Prison Inmates program helped strengthen their connection to their children.

One inmate said, “CLiF helped play an instrument[al] part in my rebuilding my relationship and trust with [my daughter] and for that I will be forever in their debt.”

For Giving Tuesday this year, CLiF held a fundraiser to purchase new books for our partnering prisons’ family holiday events, so that each child could go home with a special holiday gift. We raised more than $2,000 for these beautiful new books, which went directly to kids with an incarcerated parent.

These special gifts encourage children to read more, which promotes success in school and beyond, while (re)building relationships between incarcerated parents and their children.

Erika Nichols-Frazer is the Communications Manager at the Children’s Literacy Foundation, which serves young readers and writers throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Learn more at clifonline.org.