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Storybooks, Wells of Hope, and Improving Child Outcomes

by Dr. Geoffrey Johnson

Source: Wells of Hope. Children's identities are masked. Photo permission was granted by Francis Ssuubi.

I met Francis Ssuubi, founder of Wells of Hope Ministries, Uganda, in 2015 at the International Prisoner Family Conference (IPFC), held in Dallas, Texas. Upon our initial discussion, Francis was surprised to find out that I had visited his home country, Uganda. I shared how I was aware of the country’s reputation as being the “pearl of Africa.” During this conversation, Francis shared his vision of creating an international organization that would be aligned with the dignity and human rights of children who were affected by parental incarceration. Little did I know at that time that several years later, my spouse, Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson, would be elected as the vice president of an international organization called the International Coalition for the Children of Incarcerated Parents, (INCCIP) which was an endeavor realized. Francis co-founded INCCIP along with colleagues who attended the IPFC.

The INCCIP framework and mission are based on the collaboration and support of organizations and individuals around the world, to promote the well-being of children who have incarcerated parents/caregivers. In this regard, INCCIP supports groups and individuals from numerous countries who initiate policies and practices involving:

· Children’s rights organizations that seek to improve the lives of children with parents who are in detention.

· Support research across national and state boundaries to enhance community responses to affected populations.

In alignment with INCCIP’s principles, DR(s) Hart-Johnson and Johnson conducted a qualitative research project (2018-2019) regarding parent and caregiver communication practices with young children about parental imprisonment. This research yielded findings that informed and influenced a series of resources for families as well as children’s storybooks that are designed to assist parent-child discussions about difficult topics like incarceration and the global pandemic.

Despite Uganda’s natural beauty and tremendous resources, this nation-state suffers extreme poverty, human rights abuse, and mass imprisonment that disproportionally affects poor children and vulnerable families. These conditions are evident by the 2015 Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, which expressed concerns about both the number of people imprisoned in Uganda, as well as the type of offenses that result in incarceration, e.g., burglary and theft (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Many individuals who are suspects of committing crimes, lack the resources to avoid arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment (Foundation for Human Rights (2015).

At a basic level, in Uganda and elsewhere, the imprisonment of a parent/caregiver contributes to adverse child outcomes largely through the loss of family income and reduction in the quality of care that children receive (Eddy & Reid, 2003). Recognizing the adversities and challenges that beset children in Uganda, DC Project Connect offered Wells of Hope Ministries tailored storybooks and resources to address the topic, of parental incarceration during a time when the world was also experiencing a pandemic. Our storybooks provide scenarios and talking points for facilitators to help the children better understand a parent’s disappearance due to jail or prison. The collection of books was designed to offset the challenges children experience with parental incarceration and the now the pandemic. Our resources are bibliotherapy based (and designed to promote child-parent bonding, literacy, communication of emotional responses, and help children cope with life challenges). These publications can be found at

Photo: Wells of Hope School. Photo intentionally selected to blur identities. (DC Project Connect).

Wells of Hope is a school for children with incarcerated parents. This organization has a positive reputation throughout Eastern Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania) for offering compassionate programs and assistance to children with parents who are imprisoned, as well as those who await execution on death row. DCPC hopes that our books and resources will be used to foster and improve child outcomes in Uganda and elsewhere where they are implored.

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