Hidden Children: Using Children's Literature to Develop Understanding and Empathy Toward Children of Incarcerated Parents


  • Val Plett Reimer University of Manitoba





Research indicates that children whose parents are incarcerated are a vulnerable group of people with poor life outcomes. Yet these children are not tracked in the Canadian system, making it difficult for schools to respond with appropriate supports. How can schools be inclusive to this hidden demographic of children? Framed in theories of Critical Literacy and Ethic of Care, the author proposes the use of story to develop understanding and empathy. Research shows that acknowledging these children’s experiences through story helps them to feel validated while broadening capacity for empathy among other children. Can a story develop empathy toward children of incarcerated parents? To answer this question, the author wrote a picture book about a child who visits her mother in jail, and read the story to three groups of children, interspersed and followed by rich discussions. The story elicited empathetic responses from all students, suggesting the benefits of this approach.

Author Biography

Val Plett Reimer, University of Manitoba

Val Plett Reimer began her education career in an elementary classroom in Canada’s arctic and has since worked in areas of Learning Resource, EAL, and Adult Education. The years she spent teaching high school courses in a women’s correctional centre in British Columbia inspired the writing of Sammy’s Visit. As women in the centre shared their stories about their children and families, the plight of Canada's "hidden children" became more clear. In response, Val combined her passion for children's literature with the desire to develop greater awareness and understanding of this hidden demographic of children. Together with her husband—also a teacher—Val currently teaches in a 2-room school in a small northern Manitoba community. They have three adult children.




How to Cite

Reimer, V. P. (2019). Hidden Children: Using Children’s Literature to Develop Understanding and Empathy Toward Children of Incarcerated Parents. Language and Literacy, 21(1), 98–121. https://doi.org/10.20360/langandlit29369