A new support group, Kids With Incarcerated Parents (KWIP), is open to children in the Abilene community who have a parent or loved one who has been or is currently incarcerated.
Tracy Brown, an Abilene resident, created KWIP after her childrens’ father was sentenced to prison for 50 years. Brown said she saw how her children were struggling and started the group to help other kids in Abilene come together in a safe space to discuss their similar backgrounds.
Brown started the group in September and tried to keep a limited number of attendees until recently. Although the group is open to ages 10 through 18, Brown said the oldest is 15 years old, and younger siblings of attendees that are not yet 10 years old have joined meetings on days that are less emotional.
Each meeting has anywhere from 5 to 15 children in attendance, with three consistent families. New sign-ups are expected at the next meeting.
“We originally kept a limited group, because I didn’t want to get in over my head with children that I was not prepared to help,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to do more harm than good, but I feel like we’re there now.”
Brown said despite being at the Brookehollow church, discussions are not focused on religion, but faith is often a point of reference in personal discussions.
“I’ve found that it can be very difficult to get some of these kids to talk, and some of them don’t have boundaries,” Brown said. “After I figured out that that was going to happen in some of those situations, I diverted to having a speaker come and talk with the group.”
Brown said having speakers join the group for discussion gives the kids a chance to hear a new perspective on a situation similar to theirs, and to open and speak up if they can relate.
“I don’t want to do group therapy all the time with these kids – that’s really not what this is about,” Brown said. “It’s more about them being able to make friendships and bond and to have a peer group that they feel equal to because they all have friends outside of this, but they don’t all have friends they can relate to.”
Brown said although they sometimes sit down and have heavy, emotional conversations, it is much more effective to listen to other people and know that you’re not alone.
The group meets twice each month with different plans each time. One of the monthly meetings is focused on a heavy discussion for one hour, and the other on quality time. The second hour of each meeting is a time for fun and fellowship.
Brown said the group focuses on activities and games that build trust and relationships on days where there is no speaker. The group has also begun having “family days” more often.
Family days are an opportunity for regular attendees to bring a guardian and their siblings to the meetings. During these events, the families participate in activities, like skate parties and cupcake baking challenges.
Brown said they are always changing up the activities and meetings to keep it interesting so the kids will want to continue building relationships.
Brown said she is seeing a genuine bond growing between the kids and ease with the group that didn’t exist in the beginning.
“I just found out one of the kids is texting another one on the regular now and they never would have met in real life,” Brown said. “Now they’ve become a support system for each other outside of the group, and that’s exactly why we’re doing this.”
Brown said some of the children are very open and some struggle to participate in group conversations, but many will share their stories among friends they’ve made in the group.
“The purpose of the group is there to bring these kids together and to help them develop the skills they need to build and create good relationships so that when they leave the group they’re better prepared to support themselves and each other.
“At the end of the day, these kids are going to have to learn to stand on their own two feet, and that’s what we’re here to help them do,” Brown said.
KWIP meets twice each month on Sundays at Brookhollow Christian Church. For more information, contact Tracy Brown at (325) 725-5946.