Programs for children with incarcerated parents help kids build brighter futures

For Linda’s foster children—sisters aged six, eight and ten—the JustKids programs offered by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver (EFry) provide a unique opportunity for the girls to spend time with their siblings who live in other foster homes.

“We learned about EFry’s summer camps a few years ago from our social worker,” says Linda. “The girls’ older siblings were going and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to have fun and bond. They absolutely love camp and can’t wait to go. They also love the Saturday Club day camps. They’re always up to something different: rock climbing, Science World, crafts.”

Shawn Bayes, executive director of EFry and founder of JustKids says, “The JustKids programs are designed to support a unique group of children who have faced a lot of adversity. Children’s lives can be turned upside down when their parent goes to prison, especially when it’s their mother because incarcerated women are often single parents.”

Statistics show that without specialized supports, more than half of children who experience parental incarceration will one day end up behind bars.  Fortunately, research also shows that risk can be dramatically decreased with specialized programs. EFry is currently the only organization in Canada to offer a suite of programs specifically aimed at supporting these children.

In the four years her foster children have been taking part, Linda has observed the positive impact. “Through JustKids, the girls not only get to stay in contact with their siblings, they’ve formed lasting friendships.”

Under its JustKids umbrella, EFry offers summer and spring break camps, Saturday Clubs, dental clinics, parent-child bonding programs, a Storybook Program where incarcerated parents are recorded reading books which are then delivered along with the recording to their child, as well as a holiday program that includes a Santa lunch and a toy bank. 

“All our JustKids programs are offered at low or no cost, so poverty isn’t a barrier to participation,” says Shawn. “We are particularly grateful to our donors because all our work is made possible thanks to private sector support.”

Since launching JustKids, EFry has continued to expand the scope of its programs.

“Originally, our programs stopped at age 13 but the kids asked us to keep letting them come. So, we’ve evolved to continue being there for them as they grow,” says Shawn. “This year, some of our camp counsellors were former campers who participated in a training program we launched last year to prepare them for their first job. It’s turned out to be great role modelling for the younger children.”

For more information, visit JustKids. EFry can be found on the web, Facebook and Twitter.  

© Burnaby Now