Imagine being born in a prison. That your world consists of clanging bars, angry voices, and the echoing din of bodies shuffling around barren rooms and dirt-packed yards.
Imagine this prison is your home until you’re six years old. That you and your playmates are surrounded by severely traumatized mothers and adults who are navigating anger, depression, despondency, and a plodding judicial system. What does that do to your early development?
Imagine at six years old, you’re too old to stay with your mom in prison. Hopefully, you have relatives who will take you in and help you find your way in the unfamiliar world beyond the prison walls. If they don’t, or can’t — well, let’s not go there. Suffice to say, India does not have a foster care system.
Although hard (and heartbreaking) to imagine, there are over 1,700 Indian children living this life. They face a lifetime of poverty, ostracization, and stigmatization. They will most likely return to prison as adults.
However, there is a glimmer of hope: our community outreach partner, India Vision Foundation.
The India Vision Foundation is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) dedicated to the welfare of children and parents in the Indian prison system. For over 25 years, they have supplied structure, funds, and passion to the work of creating a crime-free society via prison reforms. Theirs is a powerful story of innovation, hope, and determination. Prepare to be inspired.
How It Started
The India Vision Foundation was born out the Ramon Magsaysay Award (Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) conferred on Dr. Kiran Bedi. The first female police officer in India, Dr. Bedi served as the Inspector General for Asia’s largest prison, Tihar Jail, where she led efforts to establish positive relationships between people and police through creative leadership. The money from this award initially funded the India Vision Foundation, ensuring this important work would continue after her tenure.
Focusing on the Children
Although the India Vision Foundation has correctional programs for incarcerated men and women, CCS Global Tech directly sponsors the Foundation’s Family Support Program. This initiative focuses solely on the health, wellbeing, development, and education of the prison’s children.
A three-pronged program, the Family Support Program begins with the Early Childhood Care & Development Program, also known as the Crèche Inside Prison. This on-site daycare center is designed for children 0-6 years old who live in the prisons with their mothers. The Crèche facilitates elementary education via a contextualized and standardized curriculum. It also provides health care, nutritious food, and holistic development through play methods. The Crèche is the children’s first step into non-prison life.
The program’s second tier is the Children of Vulnerable Families Program; the “Residential Program,” for short. The children enter this level when they turn six years old and can no longer stay with their mothers in the prisons. The Residential Program’s goal is to mainstream and educate them by supporting their overall development and helping with their academic, social, and emotional needs, thereby preventing the children from becoming victims of their parents’ incarceration.
The Residential Program provides housing, education, basic essentials (food, clothing, etc.), and access to healthcare, including emotional/mental health support. If a child transitions to living with relatives, the program works with the family to ensure that their basic needs are met and that they have what they need to continue their education. The Foundation also does capacity-building and counseling with the adults in their lives.
At this stage, the Foundation’s primary goal is uninterrupted education for these children; they know that education is the key to the children’s future success. They emphasize continuity and mental and social wellbeing over academic performance. Through education and a consistent presence, the Foundation prepares these children to step into productive lives beyond the prison walls and gives them tools to break the cycle of crime.
The third and final tier of the Family Support Program is the recently formed Alumni Program. This stage is for children who age out of the hands-on programs at 18 years old, when they become legal adults. Their “graduation” qualifies them for the Alumni Program, which extends its support network and allows these young adults to mentor younger prison children; it’s their turn to give back.
The CCS Global Tech Connection
CCS Global Tech has been supporting the India Vision Foundation since 2008. On the surface, this is consistent philanthropy, but our support and connection to the Foundation goes deeper.
At our core, CCS Global Tech is about helping others better their lives through education. We do this vis-à-vis the technology sector and professional-level learning. Be it helping upcoming professionals get their foot in the door, working with Veterans to reskill their military experience, or offering high-level training for current professionals moving their careers forward, much of our company’s focus and effort centers on education and empowerment. Supporting the Foundation’s work extends our corporate ethos to at-risk children and communities all over India.
Then there’s the question: Why India Vision Foundation, specifically? With so many non-profits and NGOs to choose from, why this one? Our CEO and Founder, Raminder Singh, replies, “Supporting India Vision ensures those who need our contribution the most – the children – benefit directly. It allows us to truly influence their lives in a positive way.” Currently, CCS Global Tech supports 45 of the 240 children in the Family Support Program.
The Foundation is small and purposeful in how they use their resources. Foundation Director Monica Dhawan says, “We focus on quality, not quantity. We only accept the number of children we can support through their entire childhood. Research shows this continuity is critical to ensuring these children break out of the crime/poverty cycle, which is what we want.” As their resources grow, the number of enrolled children increases. To date, the Family Support Program has impacted over 3,500 children.
The Foundation’s Response to COVID
The Foundation has had its share of COVID-related challenges. Thus far, they’re still going strong despite lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. Their in-prison programs remain operational, as everyone involved lives on-site; they can continue working through lockdowns. The smallest children are getting what they need.
The Family Support Program pivoted to the virtual landscape. This involved inventorying families’ technology access, data limits, and bandwidth capabilities. And although their processes look different right now, the Foundation’s team of five checks in with all the children daily, provides families with basic needs (food, clothing, healthcare) remotely, and develops interactive activities to keep the children engaged in their virtual learning.
Is this an ideal situation? No. But given the circumstances, it’s working well and helping the Foundation become more responsive and flexible. They’re still providing care and support to their kids.
Are you still trying to wrap your head around children being born and raised in prison? It’s a tough concept. As Monica says, “The Foundation’s work is only a drop in the bucket.” That may be, but drops make ripples, and ripples make change. We think the India Vision Foundation is making profound ripples, and we’re extremely proud and honored to help them make more
Original Article by CSS Global Tech: