Sharon Laxton is the project director for the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program.
Laxton met with members of the PIECES drug prevention coalition on Feb. 5 to discuss finding sponsors for local kids who would volunteer in a program designed to mentor children who have a parent or parents who are incarcerated.
Laxton said studies consistently show that children with a parent in jail have a 70 percent risk of becoming incarcerated themselves one day.
In southern West Virginia, there are some 5,000 children who have a parent in jail, she said.
"We need to identify these kids and find mentors for them. The most successful people in our culture are people who had a role model who made a difference in their lives," Laxton said.
According to Laxton, grant money is available to promote mentoring for children ages 4-18. Mentors are volunteers who agree to spend one hour per week with a child to help them become involved with positive social activities such as school work, life skills or other improvements, she said.
Mentors help with educational tutoring; take children to social activities such as movies, church, public meetings or dinners or outdoors activities such as fishing; teach them about the importance of hobbies such as music, reading, cooking etc.; listen to kids as a friend.
A mentor is not a replacement for the child's parents or family or a part of Child Protective Services, or a counselor or social worker. They are volunteers from the community who want to help a child do well.
In 2000, it was estimated that there were some 2 million children in America who had a parent behind bars. In West Virginia there were 3,300 children with an incarcerated parent.