Editorial: Volunteers help kids with parent behind bars

Published Jan 8, 2013 at 04:00AM

Growing up can be hard work under the best of circumstances, but when a parent is incarcerated, the job grows much more difficult. That’s where Deschutes County’s Central Oregon Partnerships for Youth program — featured in an article in Sunday’s edition of The Bulletin — can help.

COPY, run by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, pairs kids who have a parent behind bars with mentors, men and women who commit to spending time each week providing a break for the child they’re paired with.

Mentors aren’t “fixers,” they’re not social workers and they’re not miracle workers.

Rather, they’re unrelated adults whose interest in a particular child gives the child both a positive adult role model and a periodic good time away from the stress of life at home.

The program isn’t new. COPY matched its first child and mentor in February 2005, says Bob Moore, project coordinator, after receiving a three-year grant from the federal Administration for Children & Families.

The federal program was created as a result of a President George W. Bush initiative to pair the children of prisoners with mentors.

That seed money was enough to get the program up and running at little cost to the county, Moore says.

County officials supplied in-kind services, such as space, while the grant supplied the rest. Later, COPY received private funding to cover expenses, though today it is, in Moore’s words, “a very small line item” in the sheriff’s department budget.

All that time, one thing has been consistent. Adult mentors have made life a bit easier for children whose lives have been torn apart by crime.

Doing so can help prevent the cycle of crime from spreading to another generation, experts say.

While COPY is not the only mentoring program in Central Oregon, it is the only one that focuses specifically on children with parents behind bars.

In doing so it fills an important role in our community, making children’s lives easier in the process, and as a result they’re more likely to stay in school and avoid criminal behavior themselves.

That’s no small accomplishment for a “very small” program with an equally small staff and a group of dedicated volunteers.