TODAY   |  June 17, 2013

‘Sesame Street’ talks to kids about incarceration

For more than 40 years, “Sesame Street” has been helping kids tackle tough topics like death and divorce. With one in 28 kids having a parent behind bars, according to Pew research, the show will now be tackling the topic of understanding jail time. NBC’s Erica Hill reports.

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>>> a tough topic is being taken up on sesame street for the first time, incarceration and it's impact on kid. erica hill is here with details on that. good morning to you.

>> good morning. nice to see you. it may seem like an odd pairing but for kids who better to talk about having a parent behind bars than their friends on sesame street . this weekend some of the famous characters made a very special father's day at one new york jail.

>>> for more than 40 years, sesame street has been bringing kids those sunny days but never before inside a jail. her son hasn't seen his dad in six months. but today, she has made an exception bringing her 2-year-old to visiting day and reuniting her family because those familiar muppets promised a sunny day . it was a chance to spend much needed time with his son. it's tough to find a kid of any age that doesn't connect with the characters of sesame street . over the past few years sesame workshop used that relationship to tackle topics you likely won't find on a saturday morning cartoon. hunger.

>> i go with my family to the food pantry .

>> reporter: force.

>> this is where i live with my mommy.

>> reporter: even military deployments.

>> daddy has to go away for lots and lots of days.

>> reporter: but incarceration is perhaps the most unexpected. meet alex, the first muppet to have a dad in jail.

>> i just miss him so much.

>> is it easier for kids to hear these things coming from a muppet?

>> coming from a muppet it's almost another child telling their story to children.

>> reporter: 1 in 28 children in the u.s. has a parent behind bars . it's more than having a parent deployed but it's talked about less aufb.

>> i don't want people to know about my dad.

>> reporter: which is why he is talking about it with his friends on sesame street as part of a new tool kit for families and schools. for the folks here where 2-thirds of the inmates are parents, making that connection is essential.

>> we want to make sure that the kids understand that what has happened has nothing to do with them.

>> reporter: a message they cheerfully share with kids and parents alike. and alex, the new muppet won't be part of the regular cast. he's only part of that tool kit which is available online.

>> tough conversation to have but makes it easier when it's with the friendly little faces.