Family, Kids & Relationships

Seattle Library Program Lets Incarcerated Parents Read To Their Kids

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At last count, the Washington State Department of Corrections housed over 8,000 inmates with children under the age of 18. Two Seattle librarians wanted to do something to help these parents create or strengthen a bond with their children while incarcerated.

Lauren Mayer and Deborah Sandler, children’s services librarians for the Seattle Public Library, developed a program called Read To Me. Partnering with King County Correctional Facility and the King County Department of Public Defense, Mayer and Sandler help incarcerated parents participating in the program to record themselves reading a book to their children. The book is then delivered to each inmate’s child, along with the recording of their parent reading it to them, so they can follow along while their mom or dad reads them a story.

The Read To Me program is available to parents incarcerated in King County with children ages 7 and under. It was modeled after a similar program offered by the New York Public Library at Rikers Island, and includes a 3-day workshop aimed at teaching inmates the importance of childhood learning.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children who are read to, especially before school entry, experience stronger parent-child relationships and learn valuable language and literacy skills.” The Read To Me program provides an invaluable connection between parents and children who may not have the opportunity to bond with them in a meaningful way, while also promoting their language development and literacy skills.

Deborah Sandler, co-creator of the program, shared, “It’s really helped them stay connected with their children. It’s helped them maintain a sense of intimacy that they lost when they became incarcerated. One mom mentioned that it was like a bridge to their children to let them know that they still love them.” 

With results as positive as these, the pair hope to continue the pilot program in the years to come. 

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -