Robert, a 14-year-old boy who lives in Florida, celebrated his birthday this year the same way he’s celebrated it for the past several years: no cake, no presents, no fun.

As the son of an incarcerated parent, he has a hard time gaining his family’s attention. Luckily, he was paired with a mentor through a new program for children of incarcerated parents and was able to celebrate his birthday this year with a movie and lunch.

CHIP, or Children of Incarcerated Parents, pairs mentors with children who have at least one parent in prison. Piloted in Baltimore, the program debuts in Cincinnati in early September. It’s an effort of the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers-AmeriCorps — a partnership between the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a religious order of nuns, and AmeriCorps, a federally funded service program.

Mentors help children improve social and cognitive skills by building trust and strengthening personal relationships. They help with homework, take children to the library or to a baseball game, or spend time with them in other ways that are culturally enriching.

As Sister Katherine Sissy Corr, the executive director of NDMVA, notes, children of incarcerated parents are especially in need of caring adults in their lives. “We want to open up other opportunities and possibilities for these kids and help them realize how many gifts they have,” she says.

NDMVA representatives will begin speaking at local schools, community centers, churches and businesses, hoping to enlist mentors for a yearlong program. They’ll also reach out to the guardians of Tristate children who have at least one parent behind bars. After the mentors have gone through a training class, they’ll begin meeting with their matched child for one hour a week.

Sister Corr says she hopes 12 matches will be made in the program’s inaugural year in Cincinnati, and that it will continue to grow. CHIP is currently in seven other cities across the country.

In seven to 10 years, Sister Corr says she hopes the program will expand to include education for prisoners and job assistance once they’re released.

“It’s a big dream, but I think all of us working together can really make a difference.”

Children with Incarcerated Parents

Children whose parents are in prison are at a higher risk for teen pregnancy, drug abuse and low performance in school, not to mention a higher likelihood of being incarcerated themselves. Some of the sad statistics —2.4 million:

The number of children in the United States that have at least one incarcerated parent. One-tenth of these children will be detained before they turn 18, and about half of the boys whose parents are incarcerated will be incarcerated themselves.

7 million:

The number of children that have parents under correctional supervision (in prison, in jail or on probation or parole).


The percent of children whose parents are in jail that will end up in prison themselves.


The number of children in Hamilton County between the ages of 5 and 14 who have one or more parents in prison.

Source: Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps