More than 50,000 children in Arkansas have lost a parent to jail or prison. Some of those children end up in foster care, but many others are raised by their grandparents.
A group called Arkansas Voices Friday announced its first ever resource center for grandparents that are raising children whose parents are in prison. They told very personal stories; one of a mom recently out of prison, and another of a daughter who has risen above her mom's incarceration.
Debra Hinerman, 18, says, “I do miss my momma and it's been hard."
Hinerman will be the first in her family to go to college, rising above her mother's incarceration for aggravated robbery.
The Arkansas Voices group is helping fund Hinerman's criminal justice education at University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff through scholarships for children with incarcerated parents.
Hinerman says, "I won't want to use my momma's mistakes as a reason for why I can't do something because it's not my fault why she did that."
To help more children like Hinerman, and those who end up raising them, the Arkansas Voices held a news conference at the State Capitol announcing new grant money and the opening of the first ever grandparents resource center.
Organizer Dee Ann Nowell says, "These individuals that we owe so much to step up to take care of these families without any resources."
The center on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Hillcrest will officially open July 1, but is already stocked with books and pamphlets for grandparents. The goal is to help them understand their rights, how the prison system works, and what resources are available to their grandchildren. The new grant money will be used to start support groups for both the grandparents and their grandchildren.
Nowell says, "We are most excited about this and feel like it will be a serious and impactful contribution to a large number of these families."
A House of Representatives bill that would have allocated more state money to grandparents taking care of children of incarcerated parents failed to be heard by the joint budget committee in the most recent legislative session.
There is a website (see link below pictures) and a toll-free phone number for grandparents that need more information. The toll-free number is 1-866-9-VOICES. (1-866-986-4237)