Art program helps children with incarcerated parents

Published: Dec. 6, 2018 at 4:40 PM CST
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More than five million children across the nation have an incarcerated parent, according to UW-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds.

At Lake View Elementary in Madison, there are more than a dozen children who deal with the same reality.

Cultural Connections, an art program in Madison, links children living with an incarcerated parent to cultural arts in the community.

Pat Dillon, the founder of the program, said she started offering an art club in October every Tuesday at Lake View Elementary for children with incarcerated parents.

“I hope to turn this into something that is going to be impactful to our community, because it is very needed,” Dillon said.

She said a personal connection has inspired a lot of her work, and that this is the first time she has taken the program to a classroom.

“My grandson’s father is incarcerated, and so I have kind of watched the effects of that on his life over time. And I’m an artist and one of the things I do is put art of social justice together,” she said.

She said she wanted to give children like her grandson the opportunity to create and learn in a stigma-free space.

Tom Qualls, The Lake View Elementary parent liaison, said when it comes to data regarding children with incarcerated parents, it is hard to get an exact count, as the school and county do not track it.

He said he noticed Dillon's work in the community and thought it would be a great opportunity for students to connect and have a sense of belonging.

“A long term goal is to see some of those behavioral call reductions in some of the kids we have in our club. Because many kids in this population have had a lot of childhood adverse experiences, they tend to have more behavioral referrals than other students do,” Qualls said.

Dillon said she hopes to continue the program into the summer and eventually expand to other schools.

“It means a lot to me, bringing my grandson in, he knows this is a place where all the children have that shared experience with him.”

she said.

Dillon said all the supplies are donated by the community. For more information on Cultural Connections and how to help, click