Children of incarcerated parents: an invisible population in the Dominican Republic

Luciano Cadoni | August 14, 2015

Kharon interviewing Member of the Child Protection Committee from Boca Chica. Photo: Luciano Cadoni / CWS

Kharon interviewing Member of the Child Protection Committee from Boca Chica. Photo: Luciano Cadoni / CWS

Since 2013, CWS has been actively supporting different actions and initiatives geared towards raising awareness about the rights and needs of the 2,000,000 children and youth from Latin America and the Caribbean that have an incarcerated parent.

As part of these efforts, and thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, CWS and local partner Caminante Proyecto Educativo invited Ann Adalist-Estrin and Kharon Benson to travel from the U.S to the Dominican Republic to share their knowledge, experiences and personal stories related to this issue.

This is the second exchange event on children of incarcerated parents organized by CWS and partners and supported by the U.S Embassy.  The first took place in Uruguay in late July 2014.

Ann Adalist-Estrin has been honoured at the White House as a “Champion of Change” for her work as an advocate for children and families of the incarcerated and is the Director of the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Rutgers University. The Center provides training and consultation to government and non-government agencies and community programs in the U.S., Taiwan, Uruguay and Argentina.  Kharon Benson is a filmmaker and photographer who has directed, filmed and produced a short documentary about his relationship with his father who’s serving a 25-year sentence at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He is part of the “Echoes of Incarceration Project.”

Kharon and the group of youth community leaders with whom he shared his story. Photo: Luciano Cadoni / CWS

Kharon and the group of youth community leaders with whom he shared his story. Photo: Luciano Cadoni / CWS

During their week in the Dominican Republic, both had the chance to interact with community leaders, youth leaders, representatives from different local agencies, attorneys, judicial system officials and other professionals from Boca Chica. Boca Chica has a large population of children with incarcerated parents. They also made a presentation in Santo Domingo to officials and NGOs representatives.

One of the highlights of the week was meeting with the newly formed support group made up of children of incarcerated parents and their families. This group is the first of its kind in the country and one of the key initiatives supported by CWS aimed at addressing this neglected and under-reported issue.

One of the main needs that these families identified is to have a place where their voices can be heard. They shared how important and unique the support and accompaniment that CWS and Caminante is for them. All the relatives confirmed that no organization or agency has so far cared about the fact they have a relative in prison or the difficulties and challenges they face as a result1.

But there is still much work to be done. As part of this project, Caminante will now run three workshops in different provinces of the Dominican Republic where they will continue raising awareness and distributing informational materials, translated from English to Spanish, and calling people to action.

During our conversation both the visitors and the members of the group discovered that the struggles and challenges that these families face are very similar both in the Dominican Republic and the U.S. On the last day of our trip, some of the children and families agreed to participate in interviews that Benson filmed which will be used by Echoes of Incarceration crewmembers to compile audio visual materials so that more people – from governments, civil society, communities and families in both the U.S. and Dominican Republic – can hear about and understand better their stories.

In the upcoming months, as we continue working regionally around this issue, we will be sharing those stories with the CWS audience.

Luciano Cadoni is CWS’s Program Officer for the Protection of the Rights of the Child for CWS Latin America & the Caribbean

**Currently, CWS is a member and co-founder of the Plataforma NNAPEs (Initials for Children and Youth of Incarcerated parents in Spanish).the first network of organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean working on this issue. Platform members provide direct services to children and youth with incarcerated parents while at the regional level the platform carries out advocacy action so the best interest of these children and youth are taken into consideration and become part of the public agenda.