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Sesame Street character sheds light on issue of incarcerated parents

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Alex, a new character on Sesame Street helps children cope with incarceration. (Source: SesameStreet.org) Alex, a new character on Sesame Street helps children cope with incarceration. (Source: SesameStreet.org)
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

Characters on Sesame Street have tackled all sorts of problems facing kids for years. Now, a new character named "Alex" is teaching children about what it's like to have a parent in jail.

Studies show 1 in 28 children in the U.S. has a parent behind bars.

"The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers," a statement on Sesame Street's website says. "It can bring about big changes and transitions."

VIDEO: Sesame Street: What is incarceration?

Sesame Street tackles tough topics that parents may struggle talking to their children about.

It is part of a series called "Little Children, Big Challenges."

"In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments, the site states. "With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way."

One of the tips offered in the toolkit is building security for your child.

"In the morning, let your child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day," the site offers. "For example, 'Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you'll go to the park, and later we'll all have dinner together'."

WEB EXTRA: Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration

Krystian Land, is a Charlotte teenager dealing with that very scenerio. His father is behind bars, serving a 7-year sentence.

At first, Krystian was too ashamed to talk about it.

"It was kind of a depressing feeling, knowing that he was away," he said.

Now, Krystian meets once a month with other families whose loved one is incarcerated and it helps.

"Kind of feels like I'm not alone," said Krystian.

The monthly event is organized by the nonprofit, The Center for Community Transitions.

Sandra Willoughby heads up the organization's "Families Doing Time" program. She says 5,000 students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have a parent in jail or prison. The stress of the situation can often cause a child to act out.

"Because they've been told not to talk about it. No one really understands where this behavior is coming from," said Willoughby.

Willoughby says families in the program are encouraged to share their experiences. They write letters, play games and participate in support groups. Krystian's mom, Luwanna, never skips a meeting.

"For me as a mom, it's just nice to be able to interact with other adults that's going through the same thing," she said.

Krystian has to wait another 2 years before his father is released. Rebuilding their relationship will take time, but Willoughby says with the right guidance, there's hope.

"Children love their parents and just because they're incarcerated doesn't lessen that need to know who that person is," said Willoughby.

The Center for Community Transitions also works with women to help them transition from incarceration back into society.

For more information, visit http://www.centerforcommunitytransitions.org/.

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