Do you remember when you made your first friend? For most of us, it’s impossible to recall or even to remember the names of the many friends we had when we were young. But for children with a parent in prison, making those connections isn’t so easy. Over and over again, the six to 13 year-old participants of EFry’s Blue Sky summer camps have told us our camps were where they experienced friendship for the first time. Finally, they were in a place where they were like everyone else.
EFry introduced Canada’s first summer camps for children with a parent in prison three years ago, as part of our JustKids initiative. We knew there was an unmet need for a place where these kids could go, feel normal and just have fun. Research shows parental incarceration can have a greater negative impact on a child’s life than a parent’s death. When a parent goes to prison, particularly when it’s the mother, a child’s life gets turned upside down. They lose their main caregiver, are forced to live with relatives or strangers, and leave behind their schools, their neighbourhood and the people they know. Many aren’t told where their parent is, so they feel abandoned. If they do know, they worry about their parent (prisons are portrayed as pretty awful places in the media) and wonder if they are ‘bad’ too.
Without specialized supports, more than 60 per cent of children with a parent in prison will find themselves behind bars one day. But programs that help them feel normal, address their fears and build self-confidence can break the legacy of justice system involvement. These kids can enjoy the same life outcomes as others. Something as simple as summer camp can help them do that.
What many of these children have been through is heartbreaking. I had one six-year-old girl, who had seen her father try to kill her mother and brother, ask her little camp group after the bedtime story who else had experienced such a thing. These conversations are difficult but so necessary to healing and Blue Sky camp is place where kids feel safe to have them.
Thanks to the generosity of the BC Elks of Canada, we have been able to offer week-long camps on a beautiful five-acre site complete with lovely cabins, a meal and recreation building, playground, fields, forests and a farm of friendly, formerly-orphaned animals that the kids can feed and pet.
As kids got close to aging out, they told us how much camp means to them and asked if we could please find a way so they could keep coming. So this year, we’re offering camps for children up to 15 years old and have expanded the number of weeks from four to five so we can welcome up to 180 children. We’re striving to build a year-round system of support, so this year we also introduced spring break camps and offer Saturday Club (essentially a day camp) throughout the rest of the year.
Virtually all these kids live below the poverty line, so while the camps cost us $400 per week for each child, we offer them at $30 and give guardians the option of volunteering in lieu if they can’t afford the fee. None of our JustKids work is publicly funded and we welcome all donations.
If you know of a child who might benefit from a week at Blue Sky, registration is on now by contacting email@example.com.
EFry & JustKids