Girl Scouts Work to Help Kids of Incarcerated Parents
SEATTLE – About 1.75 million children in the U.S. have a parent in prison, and a new report says their needs are complex and the resources to support them are limited.
But in Washington, the Girl Scouts are doing what they can to help. Girl Scouts Beyond Bars is a program especially for girls of incarcerated parents, that brings the troop right to the prison for meetings and activities.
Program director Libby Compton says one advantage is overcoming the chief obstacle that keeps children from seeing their parent more often – transportation.
"For the families to be able to drive out there and take a day off work, and pay for the gas, is really prohibitive a lot of times,” she points out. “And then, even phone calls – the cost of the phone calls is really astronomical. So, Girl Scouts being able to provide the service of actually transporting them there is a pretty big deal."
The report, from Volunteers of America, says children of incarcerated parents are at high risk of a host of problems, from substance abuse to depression and trouble in school, and that young children with mothers in prison are the most vulnerable.
Compton says Girl Scouts Beyond Bars is a way to keep the mother-daughter bond strong and give both reasons to plan for a better future.
The Girl Scouts of Western Washington sponsor troops at the women's prison facilities at Gig Harbor and Belfair, and also have one of the nation's only programs for fathers and daughters, at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
But Compton says much more could be done.
"I believe we have 13 active prison institutions, and we're only doing work in three,” she says. “So definitely, there'd be a great opportunity to expand if we had more staff and more funding – but that's a really big undertaking."
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars gets some money from the Washington Department of Corrections and of course, from the Girl Scouts organization. Compton says the program is always in need of mentors for the girls, as well as sponsors for their outings outside the prison walls.