Approximately 7,500 young people in Minnesota have at least one parent who is incarcerated according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, an estimated 3,270 children have a parent in a facility operated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. These children attend school, play sports and have dreams, just like their peers. However, they are 70 percent more likely to become incarcerated themselves. MCOP, a program offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Greater Twin Cities provides these children with caring adult friends to ensure a positive future.
In 2004, BBBS served more than 140 children in its MCOP program and has surpassed its 2005 match goal of 75, having paired 90 children with a caring adult between January and June. Partnering with Search Institute, the Council on Crime and Justice and the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, BBBS only has a $150,000 3-year grant to use in matching and supporting these children. Bigs receive additional support and training and MCOP matches interact on a regular basis to lean grow and support each other.
MCOP program Bigs do all the things other Big Brothers and Sisters do. They meet their Littles two to four times per month, participate in fun activities and become a source of support and encouragement. In addition, BBBS provides MCOP mentors with special training, support and opportunities to connect with other matches experiencing similar joys and challenges. For children of prisoners, having another responsible, caring adult in their lives is imperative. A trusting relationship with a Big provides stability for the child and reassurance for parents.
BBBS works with children between the ages of 7 and 13. At this young age, children are open and impressionable. A Big can make all the difference when a child is heading into the difficult adolescent years. Bigs and Littles can remain in the program until the Little graduates from high school, however many matches last a lifetime.
Children with a Big Brother or Sister are 52 percent more likely to attend school. They are also 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol and 30 percent less likely to hit someone—all behaviors that might start a child on the road to incarceration. Through MCOP, BBBS is building a stronger society by breaking the cycles of violence, chemical abuse and school dropout rates. By having contact with a caring adult, children have someone to talk to, ask questions of, listen to them and show them that history need not repeat itself.