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When a parent is incarcerated it can devastate their child’s physical and emotional health. A YMCA program has worked to help kids deal with those effects for the past 15 years, and it now plans to expand and serve more youth.

The program is called Y-NOW, and it mentors youth ages 11-15 who have a parent that has been in jail. Youth are referred into the free program by their family, school or others. Once up to 30 kids are accepted, they are taught life skills by a case manager for 10 months in order to help them graduate high school. That case manager can offer tutoring, advice, support in school and other services meant to build a positive relationship between them and youth in the program.

Y-NOW Mentoring Program Director Brittany Bryant said the mission is to break the cycle of incarceration.

“If you can get a youth to graduate from high school, then that significantly drops their likelihood of becoming incarcerated. So we focus on getting them to graduation,” Bryant said. “We try to show them that they are important — that they matter.”

Bryant said the program is hoping to expand to serve older youth who are transitioning into adulthood.

A lot of kids in Kentucky have caregivers go to jail. According to data from the KIDS COUNT Data Center, in 2016-2017 (the most recent data available), 13 percent of youth under the age of 18 in Kentucky had a parent or guardian serving time in jail. The national average is eight percent.

The federal Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey says that experience can traumatize kids, increase their risk for depression and affect young people’s educational opportunities.

Bryant said that out of 200 youth in Y-NOW who should have graduated high school, 92 percent of them graduated on time. But Bryant wants to expand the program because she said many of those youth need help building essential adult skills, like writing a resume and doing laundry.

“We’ve had a couple of alumni who have reached out to us when they’re still in high school and get overwhelmed with a lot of the things that are going on, whether it’s in their family or just in school,” Bryant said. “Just really helping them plan out the next step that they want to do and what’s realistic for them — what they’re interested in.”

Bryant said planning for the program’s expansion will start in August when program alumni meet for a reunion. They hope the expansion will start by next school year, but said it could cost up to $75,000 to hire a new case manager for it. Information on mentoring or referring someone into the program is on the Y-NOW website.

 

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.