Five Years Later: Final Implementation Lessons from the Evaluation of Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers and Their Partners. Building Relationships: The MFS-IP Initiative

05/01/2013

The Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers and Their Partners (MFS-IP) funded services to support families in which one parent was incarcerated or recently released. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided up to $500,000 per year for five years to twelve grantees. OFA’s family strengthening initiative required grantees to work with both members of a couple to support healthy marriage, and also permitted activities to support responsible parenting and economic stability.

This initiative was an innovative approach to reducing recidivism by strengthening families, and required new collaborative relationships between corrections and human services agencies. At the time the initiative was conceived, little was known about what strategies might be effective for delivering family strengthening services to incarcerated and reentering fathers and their families. The agencies to which these grants were awarded were diverse in terms of service delivery history, organizational focus, and agency type. The grantee diversity also translated into varied implementation goals and strategies. Recognizing that there was much to be learned from these pioneering programs, HHS funded a national implementation and impact evaluation of the grantees.

Implementation study findings (the focus of this report) shed light on characteristics associated with implementation success. Implementation success refers to features of MFS-IP sites that brought their program plans to full scale, delivered services with minimal interruption, or developed innovations that would help subsequent efforts succeed. Data sources included annual interviews with grantee staff and other stakeholders, including program participants and partner agency staff, as well as administrative data submitted by grantees. Additionally, one year after the end of the five-year grants, we conducted a round of interviews to explore grantee perspectives on the legacy and sustainability of their grant activities. True to the mission of these programs, a common theme in the implementation data across sites and data collection waves was building relationships. We explore this and other lessons learned from more than six years of involvement in family strengthening in corrections in this brief. (A detailed technical report on final implementation study findings and all other study reports are available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/MFS-IP/ and https://mfs.rti.org/.)

Services Provided to MFS-IP Program Participants

The MFS-IP program models, service settings, and target populations varied, but all of the grantees delivered services to incarcerated fathers and their partners.

Relationship or marriage education for both members of each couple was the core service provided by all grantees. Sites also offered other family-strengthening services, including these:

  • relationship and family counseling
  • parenting and co-parenting education
  • case management
  • mentoring and coaching services
  • enhanced visitation options
  • support in maintaining contact and communication during incarceration
  • domestic violence education and referrals
  • support groups
  • education and employment services
  • financial literacy classes

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