Blogger Jonathan Dolce

Children in Crisis: Literacy brings Hope

Supporting Detained Children

It’s little wonder that on ALSC’s listserv that the topic of supporting children caught up in a web of immigration policy came up.  Frankly, it’s in the youth services librarian’s DNA.  We do all we can every day for every child who walks through our library’s doors.  And for those we encounter in our outreach efforts, we do that much more.  It is not an unreasonable leap that librarians nationwide would want to get library materials and services to detained children.

Why Literacy Behind Bars is so Important

Before we delve into efforts by REFORMA and other non-profits and NGOs, the question that you need to be ready for is simply “why?”

If children are being detained, whatever the circumstance, literacy is integral – key – to their chances for success.

Here’s your top-5 why’s and ALL of these are about kids right here:

  1. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  3. Students who don’t read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  4. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
  5. Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

Need more?  Here you go!

  1. 53% of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20% of 8th graders could say the same.
  2. 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90% of high school dropouts are on welfare.
  3. Teenage girls between the ages of 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty line and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than girls their age who can read proficiently.
  4. Reports show that the rate of low literacy in the United States directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.

REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project

Started four years before this current crisis, REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project was created to help get books and library connections for unaccompanied refugee children.  Though aimed at specifically Spanish-speaking, Latino children, the spirit of their work is universal and their aims and directives can be applied to any manner of refugee, irrespective of their country of origin.

Still wondering why or need to answer that nagging ‘why’ question to appease the naysayer?

Most prisons do not have sufficient numbers of books youngsters to read.

Reading helps children imagine themselves succeeding in the real world, which encourages them to increase their level of literacy.

Providing books for moms in prison to read to their children makes children who will be more likely to be literate, which could play a role in helping them avoid being vulnerable to incarceration themselves.

Who Else is Making a Difference?

unPrison Project

YOU!  You are making a difference – I KNOW you are!  Here’s one example of how you radical militant librarians are gettin’ it done!

Badass book clubs keeping children reading! Sign up for Banned Books Club.

What else are you doing?  Here you go!

To the Future

We are living in an age of the refugee.  How we react to those in need is a reflection of our humanity.  While many are fleeing political oppression, war, and sheer economic desperation, most of the issues stem from environmental factors that have spun out of control – think, like, access to clean drinking water.

I am confident my fellow colleagues will rise to the occasion, reflect the best in all of us,  and bring relief to many of those for whom hope is all they have left.

Please in the comments field post your ideas for getting library services to detained children- wherever they may be.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and V. Outreach and Advocacy.


  1. Gary Hondel

    This organization should be about children’s literature…not politics. This is just a way of working literature in to the issue of immigration in order to further an agenda and still maintain the status of a literature group.

    1. Jonathan P Dolce

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your commentary – I appreciate it! Let me know how your efforts go with aiding incarcerated children. You may note in the article above that most if not all of the statistics are about American children and teens in prison, so I’m not sure what you mean.

      Thanks again!

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