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Miss Wisconsin 2011 Laura Kaeppeler was crowned Miss America 2012

Circles of Support - Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents

Children of incarcerated parents are an invisible population, and tragically there is no one agency responsible for their welfare. Nationwide, more than two million children have a parent who is incarcerated in state or federal prison, or local jail. About one in 40 children have an incarcerated father and one in 359 children have an incarcerated mother. More than ten million children have parents who were at one time imprisoned. Children with imprisoned parents are almost six times more likely than their peers to become involved in crime and become incarcerated at some point in their lives. They most commonly experience emotions of anger, isolation, sadness, fear, anxiety and guilt, which often lead to instances of school failure, delinquency and intergenerational incarceration.

It is because I have a personal connection to these children that I chose this cause as my platform. At the age of 14, an immediate family member committed a white collar crime and was sentenced to one year in federal prison when I was 17 years old. During that time, I experienced emotions of isolation and anger due to the vast publicity this situation was given in my home town. Because of this experience, it has become my mission in life to help children overcome this adversity while understanding they are not alone and must never give up on themselves.  

As Miss Wisconsin, I will champion this cause through the implementation of the following strategies:

Education
Through my Circles of Support organization, I will implement an education program that addresses the following demographics of this issue: 1) the children of incarcerated parents with an emphasis on their emotional stability; 2) the family of the incarcerated ensuring they have proper guidance for counseling or therapy; and 3) re-uniting the child and parent after incarceration emphasizing the importance of communication and effort in re-establishing that relationship. I have created “Miss Wisconsin’s Guide to Becoming Visible,” a handbook for children and parents to use as a reference during and after the time of incarceration.

Advocacy
I will use the voice of Miss Wisconsin to speak for this invisible population of children. There are significant opportunities through The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and The Department of Corrections to advocate for funding and grants to charter programs within school and community organizations to target children of incarcerated parents.

Lastly, the most important element of Circles of Support is to allow children to express emotion. At every gathering of children of incarcerated parents, I encourage children to draw a picture describing their current emotions. My goal is to then compile the children’s drawings into a Circles of Support book, to be sold at the 2013 Miss Wisconsin Pageant where the proceeds will be used to help fund Circles of Support. These pictures are anonymously posted on the Circles of Support website (www.laurakaeppeler.com), so that each invisible child I encounter throughout my year as Miss Wisconsin has the opportunity to feel visible.

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