MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Growing up is hard enough for some children, but it’s even harder for children with incarcerated fathers.

To help strengthen family bonds through the holiday season, Service Network for Children of Inmates, Florida Department of Corrections, and The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade organized visits with children to eight prisons across Florida.

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About 30 children from Miami-Dade and Broward counties visited their incarcerated fathers Friday at the Dade Correctional Institution in FloridaCity.

Some of the children saw their fathers for the first time in months or years.

“They smile and light up they run the kids run to me we just embrace it’s really nice it’s really nice,” said Issac Javers who is serving a life sentence and hasn’t seen his kids in three months.

“I call and write send them cards, things like that, but other than that it bothers me at times because I actually want to see them grow up enjoy their birthdays with them,” he said

His 6 year old son, David, said he enjoyed telling his dad about Christmas. “I was happy to see him,” he said.

The daylong trips are part of a seven-year-old initiative to help more than 1,500 children of incarcerated parents in South Florida establish meaningful and lasting ties with their mothers and fathers – a project researchers believe helps to mitigate the trauma associated with the arrest and absence of their parents.

“Some people might say ‘Is that a good idea to have a relationship with a parent?’  but when a child is missing a relationship with a parent it’s like missing a part of themselves,” explained Linda Freeman with the Service Network for Children of Inmates.

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Research has shown children of inmates are much more likely than other children to become delinquent and engage in anti-social behaviors.

At Friday’s visit, the children and their incarcerated parents sat around tables in secure rooms and read books, put together puzzles, did arts-and-crafts projects, and played board games.

These families also enjoyed a holiday lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans.

After all of the visits, the children were taken to a bowling alley or skating rink to help ease anxieties of being separated from their parents again and help them bond with other children.

“For children, the incarceration of their parents has severe consequences, and these prison trips are intended to alleviate the uncertainty and confusion about the environment their parents are living in and help families reunite,” said Shellie Solomon, project director for Service Network For Children of Inmates, a coalition of 12 faith-based and professional organizations that provides services to the children.

Establishing relationships with their incarcerated parents enables these children to better connect with their families, boost their self-esteem, and grow into responsible adults, organizers say.

“Some of the parents also to sit and talk with their kids about what their life has been like choices they’ve made things they wouldn’t do again,” said Freeman.

“I don’t want them to grow up with the same mistakes I did,” said Javers.  He says he’s teaching his kids not to follow in their dad’s footsteps: “Get good grades and don’t come to prison.”

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