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Helping prisoners’ kids avoid jail | Derek Reid and Jessica Reid

Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 11:32 AM | By Derek Reid and Jessica Reid

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Derek Reid
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Jessica Reid
Every year over 300,000 children in Canada are separated from their parent because of their involvement with the criminal justice system.

Children affected by parental incarceration experience the traumatic abandonment by a fundamental role model that often results in compromised self-esteem, a decline in academic achievement and the adoption of anti-social attitudes and delinquent behaviours which only elevates the risk of engaging in youth crime.

Sadly, there is only one organization dedicated to providing ongoing supportive programming for these vulnerable children. Foster Empowering Advocating Together (FEAT) for children of incarcerated parents is a charitable non for-profit organization we founded in 2012.

Since the inception of FEAT, over 950 children and 2,000 families have accessed our vital programs designed to build resilience.

FEAT’s peer mentorship program provides children affected by parental incarceration with an opportunity to receive mentoring from a positive role model every week. This program provides direct intervention for participants by facilitating development of leadership and mentoring skills, offering one-on-one academic support, teaching healthy coping strategies and building a positive peer support network through skills-based workshops, hands-on opportunities for practising learned skills and receiving multi-tiered mentorship.

The design of this program serves to build resilience and increase social skills through participation in a variety of team-building activities, engaging in peer group discussion and organizing community-based projects to strengthen the communities they live in.

To promote the preservation of the parent-child bond during imprisonment, FEAT’s family visitation program provides transportation for children and their families from Toronto to the federal correctional institutions in Ontario every weekend.

FEAT offers visit coaching prior to and following visits to optimize the positive impact of family visitations and encourage the continuation of contact.

Specifically, we provide counselling on the bus to help prepare families for visits, guide children’s expectations and offer support following the visit. During the trips, children and families have the opportunity to receive peer support, engage in group discussion and learn adaptive coping strategies from a counsellor.

Along with the emotional support the children receive, our program promotes cognitive and social skill development through engaging in interactive activities, collaborative games and reading with mentors on the bus.

In addition to the two supportive programs I have highlighted above, we also collaborate with community partners on specific projects throughout the year.

Specifically, as we recognize that children affected by parental incarceration are more likely to reside in households that face financial challenges, every year we organize a back-to-school supply drive and a holiday season drive. Furthermore, with the lack of services currently available to these vulnerable children across our country, we are launching a texting support line in September to bridge this gap and provide accessible support to youth and caregivers from coast to coast.

Children affected by parental incarceration face a myriad of challenges including; family instability, economic insecurity, societal stigmatization as well as compromised self-esteem, trust and sense of security in their familial relationships. It is only with the generosity of compassionate individuals and corporations that we can make a difference, build brighter futures and break the cycle of intergenerational crime.  

Before co-founding FEAT with his daughter Jessica, Derek Reid worked in the Toronto financial industry for 25 years. Jessica is currently a PhD candidate at Guelph University while continuing her role as the executive director of research and programs at FEAT.

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