Meeting enrollment targets is a key implementation outcome for any program. It proved a particularly challenging one to achieve for many MFS-IP programs. MFS-IP grantees targeted couples separated by incarceration—and many grantees were not able to recruit their targeted numbers of families.
Recruiting pairs of program participants necessitated a different approach than might be used in programs that enroll individuals. Most programs treated the incarcerated father as the “primary” participant for recruitment purposes: incarcerated men were brought into MFS programs largely through presentations and flyers in their prison facilities. Each female participant was recruited via her connection to an already-recruited male participant. Typically, each man who was eligible and interested in participating in the MFS-IP program was asked to provide his partner’s name and contact information and sometimes to make initial contact with her to inform her about the program. Identified partners were then contacted by program staff with an invitation to participate. Programs had a harder time engaging the women in the community than they did engaging the incarcerated fathers. Sites noted that women in the community were typically low-income mothers who faced overwhelming demands on their time and resources during their partners’ incarceration.
Enrolling Couples Separated by Incarceration
By design, MFS-IP programs aimed to enroll couples in which one member was incarcerated. Unlike couples recruited for community-based relationship strengthening work, MFS-IP enrollees typically:
- Were not residing with one another at the time of recruitment and program initiation
- Had very tenuous relationships due to the strain of incarceration and the events preceding incarceration
- Had limited communication with one another due to the incarceration (e.g., limited in-person contact, lack of access to email, extremely high phone rates for calls placed from prisons).