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Making mentoring opportunities happen for children of offenders

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Illustration of woman comforting female teenMaking mentoring opportunities happen for children of offenders
By Christina Melton Crain, Chairman,
Texas Board of Criminal Justice

portrait of Christina Melton Crain
Christina Melton Crain,
TBCJ Chairman
On March 9, 2006, Governor Rick Perry announced a $3.78 million grant to launch Amachi Texas, a program that uses faith-based and secular partners to match children of offenders with adult role models. “Amachi” is a word of Nigerian dialect that means, “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.” The Amachi program began five years ago in Philadelphia, under the leadership of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr. It has since spread to various communities throughout the United States, engaging children of offenders in mentoring relationships with people of faith.

Amachi Texas is a public-private effort between our agency, the Office of the Governor, Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas (BBBS), and the OneStar Foundation (a nonprofit charitable organization created to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism). It is the first initiative to take the Amachi program to a statewide level. The program will focus on children ages 6 to 14 who come recommended from churches, schools, caregivers, and parents in prison. It will initially mentor 1,300 children who have incarcerated parents, building an infrastructure across the state to reach thousands more in the future.

black and white illustration of a little girlBBBS will serve as the program director and service delivery providers for Amachi Texas. They will enroll, screen, and train mentors, offer referrals and counseling to families of children, provide on-going support for the mentor/child relationship, and evaluate and report on program activities. The OneStar Foundation will connect BBBS with various faith-based and related organizations that can support the program through the recruitment of volunteer mentors and the referral of children. Our agency’s role will be to make offenders under our supervision aware of the Amachi program and the availability of mentoring services. For those offenders who participate voluntarily, TDCJ will help link them with the resources available in their family’s community.

black and white illustration of man sitting down in chair talking to two children sitting on floor and one child standing upRecent findings by the United States Bureau of Justice indicate that children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. This is alarming considering there are an estimated 2.4 million children affected by the nearly 1.5 million parents incarcerated in prison and jail. Programs such as Amachi Texas will address these children’s specific needs through mentoring.

Since studies have clearly shown that mentoring can significantly reduce a young person’s initiation of drug and alcohol use, improve school performance and attendance, reduce incidents of violence, and, in the case of an incarcerated parent, improve the child’s relationship with that parent, Amachi Texas can make a difference in the potentially negative direction of their lives.

Participation in Amachi Texas, BBBS, and the OneStar Foundation is a logical connection for our agency, as it is consistent with the mission of GO KIDS (Giving Offenders Kids the Incentive and Direction to Succeed). It facilitates additional avenues for offenders and offender families to better access community resources which, in this case, involves mentoring services for children of incarcerated parents.

While families of offenders will be the recipients of services through these programs, the benefits are not limited to incarcerated parents and their children. By serving one of the most at-risk populations in our society, programs such as Amachi Texas and GO KIDS will make great strides in helping to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration, in turn providing a better future for all Texans.

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