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Sociology Students Make Holiday Season Memorable for Metro Atlanta Children


An unintended victim of individuals who are incarcerated is children. In Georgia alone, more than 240,000 children have had a parent be jailed or imprisoned, according to a 2016 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The effects of incarceration on children can disrupt a child’s social and emotional well-being leading to behavior problems, poor outcomes in school, and potential severed relationships with the parent.

To help Clayton State University students understand how metro Atlanta families with incarcerated parents cope, sociology instructor Taralyn Keese partnered with nonprofit organization Foreverfamily to complete a service learning project for her Social Problems course.

“The objectives for our work with Foreverfamily were to provide services to children with incarcerated parents and their families,” Keese says. “To ensure that no matter what the circumstances, all children have the opportunity to be surrounded by the love of family.”

Adult holding hands with a child.

Foreverfamily provides services, resources, and support to children and their parents affected by incarceration. Children have an opportunity to visit their parent, while parents are given the tools they need to parent from jail or prison, as well as maintain their parental rights upon re-entry into society. Caregivers for their children are also provided a support system to manage taking care of a child whose parent is incarcerated.

"Engaging with our communities also enriches our students’ and facultys' experiences both as members of the Clayton State community and as citizens."– Dr. Antoinette Miller Professor of Psychology and PACE Director.


Keese’s classes volunteered twice during the fall 2018 semester to help Foreverfamily prepare for the holiday season, a difficult time for families dealing with incarceration.

“Based on feedback I have received from students, many indicated they learned how resilient many of the children with incarcerated parents were,” says Keese. “This opportunity gave students the chance to learn and understand how sociologists define, study, and respond to social problems, with special attention to those that influence human behavior in the United States.”

Just before Thanksgiving, students assisted with creating baskets for the families based on their needs. On another day, the students helped the children get ready for visitation at detention centers around Atlanta. Students made breakfast and prepped holiday gifts. Each year, local churches request wish lists from the children so that church members may gift needs and wants to these families.

“Seeing the kids come back from the trip full of joy was the best part of the experience,” says Tiffany Perez, a junior criminal justice major at Clayton State. “I love Foreverfamily and everything they do. I look forward to volunteering with them in the future.”

The service learning component of Keese’s class is part of Clayton State’s experiential learning initiative, Partnering Academics and Community Engagement (PACE). The program offers students opportunities to gain hands-on, real word experience outside of the classroom that connects their in-class learning to the needs of the community.

Students develop and sharpen their problem solving, research, and communication skills. In turn, community partners like Foreverfamily benefit from the additional assistance and student knowledge the program brings.

“By deepening the connections between our campus and our communities, Clayton State can provide instrumental and meaningful service to our partners in the community while supporting our students’ learning,” says Dr. Antoinette Miller, professor of psychology and PACE Director. “Engaging with our communities also enriches our students’ and facultys’ experiences both as members of the Clayton State community and as citizens.”

Back to the Spring 2019 issue

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