By Dana Simas, OPEC Public Information Officer

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has partnered with Sesame Street Workshop to help support young children cope with the issues that arise when a parent becomes incarcerated.

Soon, all California state prisons will be receiving packets that will be given to visitors and available for parents or caregivers of children who have an incarcerated parent.

CDCR is one of ten correctional departments in the nation to pilot the new “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative. Nationally, the number of children with an incarcerated parent has increased nearly 80 percent in the past 20 years with nearly 2.7 million children having at least one parent who is incarcerated.

“We are excited about this new partnership with Sesame Street and the focus on helping children cope with the issues surrounding having an incarcerated parent,” Jay Virbel, Associate Director of CDCR’s Female Offender Programs, Services and Special Housing said. “We are committed to doing what we can to help break the generational cycle of incarceration.”

The “Little Children, Big Challenges” initiative provides children with helpful tools and information to help express their emotions. The program helps foster support, comfort, sadness, confusion, and aims to reduce anxiety that children three to eight years old may experience.

For parents or caregivers the toolkit includes resources to work through and foster age-appropriate communication about the impacts of incarceration. The tool kit includes strategies, tips, and educational resources to help break the communication barriers of incarceration.

CDCR’s Female Offender Programs and Services is working with Sesame Street on the pilot program. Last month, the partnership kicked off with a soft rollout at San Quentin State Prison. Approximately 20 families arrived for a special visiting day where the children were able to watch the Sesame Street skits with their parent and surprised by a special appearance from Elmo.

“Sesame Workshop has always been at the forefront of creating resources for families and young children to help address some of life’s most difficult issues,” Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop. “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration tackles a very difficult topic, one for which there are scant resources to help young children, and best of all, it approaches these difficult transitions in the way that only Sesame Street and our trusted Muppets can.”

To request a parent education toolkit, please call Albert Rivas at (916) 324-6508 or by e-mail at

En español: Niños pequeños, retos grandes: Encarcelamiento

Elmo with child 1

Elmo hugs a child at San Quentin State Prison during a soft rollout of CDCR’s “Little Children, Big Challenges” initiative. (Photo by CDCR staff photographer Eric Owens.)

Elmo photo 2

A child colors pages at San Quentin State Prison during a soft rollout of CDCR’s “Little Children, Big Challenges” initiative. (Photo by CDCR staff photographer Eric Owens.)