Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, one of the largest multi-service criminal justice organizations in the country, regularly works with children with incarcerated parents in the New York area and partnered with "Sesame Street" for the initiative.
"This is an issue we've been struggling with for years. Kids are ashamed of it, or scared people will think they are like their parents," she says. "But Alex made it more accessible for kids to talk about."
The effort has so far been hailed by educators and health advocates. The Educator's Room, an education website, applauded "Sesame Street" for tackling the "taboo topic" of parents in prison. Kellee Terrell, who runs the health web site TheBody.com, commended "Sesame Street" in BET for "breaking the silence and encouraging a conversation" on incarceration.
But some think the taboo topic should be addressed more widely, including Gaynes at the Osborne Association.
"I would like to see Alex on PBS," she says. "It should be available not just for parents who have a kid in jail, but for kids who know somebody who does – because the stigma comes from other people."
Though Alex likely won't appear on PBS, "Sesame Street" has made some efforts to reach a wider audience on incarceration. On Tuesday, the show began tweeting from the perspective of a child with an incarcerated parent, writing: "Children with an incarcerated parent feel a complex array of emotions," and sharing a Vine video that read, in child's handwriting: "Sometimes I feel ashamed and confused. Other times I feel happy because I get to see my mom."
Chwatsky says the decision to keep Alex and incarceration online and off TV wasn't made lightly.
"Every single topic is looked at individually. Certain topics are good for all audiences, certain topics are not," she says. "Alex is intended to reach kids who have been impacted... by parents with incarceration."