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GO KIDS Articles

The Children of the Incarcerated

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Wed, April 26, 2006

Editorial | Mentoring program deserves praise

Amachi is a West African word whose meaning is swaddled in wisdom: “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.”

That saying is all about the potential of children, the possibilities of their lives if offered the chance to grow, to learn, to live moral lives - and to have children who give to their communities in a positive way.

Amachi is also the name of a mentoring program that has had a big impact on the children of incarcerated parents. A child whose parent is absent is a child who is more vulnerable to the risks and criminal behavior that stalk many neighborhoods.

The Philadelphia-born program is celebrating its fifth anniversary of successfully wedding social and religious organizations to help these children of imprisoned parents. Congratulations are in order.

The neediest children are often the most invisible. The children of parents who are in prison fit that description.

They are not tiny in numbers: About 2.4 million kids nationwide, ages 5 to 18, have or have had a parent in prison. Philadelphia has about 40,000 such children.

A report on Amachi noted that without intervention, as many as 70 percent of these kids will themselves enter the criminal justice system.

And so John J. DiIulio Jr., a University of Pennsylvania professor and former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, came up with the Amachi intervention model. The Rev. W. Wilson Goode, former Philadelphia mayor, led it to reality with help from Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is based in Philadelphia.

The model starts with recruiting pastors throughout the city. Many inner-city churches already serve as hubs for community activities and social services. Their pastors are closely connected to adults who could serve as responsible mentors to these kids. Amachi’s strength begins in these churches.

Mentors are matched with kids and tracked to see how frequently they meet and how long the relationship lasts. The minimum for a good experience is considered to be a year.

Amachi has scored so well on so many measures - and has funding to back its services - that it has become a national model that serves 20,000 children in 232 programs.

Yet it is barely known here, in its birthplace. As it turns 5, may it get the recognition - and appreciation - it deserves for trying to break generational cycles of imprisonment.

Used with permission of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.