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