New Sesame Street character connects with children of incarcerated parents

1 in 28 U.S. kids have an incarcerated parent

INDIANAPOLIS - Sesame Street has introduced its first-ever Muppet character who has an incarcerated parent, addressing a reality that children across the country face daily.

The new character, named Alex, shares their pain through the show's new online initiative Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration .

Local advocates say they welcome anything that brings attention to this issue, since one in 28 kids nationwide had a parent behind bars at the time of a 2010 Pew study.

Rachel Halleck -- a family coach for the Look Up and Hope program through the Volunteers of America -- was consulted by Sesame Street producers to make sure the show's portrayal of Alex is accurate.

Halleck and others at Look Up and Hope work to bridge the gap between children and their incarcerated parents, and she's seen firsthand what the children go through.

"They don't always understand why," she said. "They struggle with connecting with the parent when they're there. They struggle with trust."

Indianapolis resident Mary Holdcroft has been raising her daughter's kids since 2004 while their mother is in and out of jail.

"They struggle daily," Holdcroft said. "They want their mom desperately. What kid doesn't?"

Holdcroft said she's glad to see a character created to help kids through such a serious challenge.

"It's been such a terminal disease that's been pushed back in society that nobody wants to face," she said. "It hits us daily."

Holdcroft's grandchildren -- Nick, 11, and Haley, 9 -- discussed their experience.

"She's away a lot," Nick said. "(It's) really hard."

"I just lie around the TV and pretend that she's here," Haley said. "Every time I heard the words, 'What's your mom like, Haley?' I just run."

Haley described constant fear and uncertainty.

"(I'm) nervous that she's going to get hurt, and that we might not ever get to see her again," Haley said.

For more on the Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration program, click here .

For more on Look Up and Hope program, click here .

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