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. What Services Should Family Strengthening Programs Offer—and When?


When asked what they had learned from program implementation, many grantees identified specific components that they wished they had included in their original MFS-IP program designs. These included fathers-only relationship or parenting classes and employment-related supports. Above all, program leaders stressed the importance of job placement assistance to men’s reentry success, family relationships, and continued attachment to family strengthening services. They believed that holistic programming designed to address a variety of needs beyond relationship and parenting education (including substance abuse treatment, employment and housing) could increase program uptake and impact. The experiences of MFS-IP grantees that embedded family strengthening services in the context of faith- or character-based programming (one third of sites) suggested that supporting individual transformation was crucial in preparing participants for reentry into families and communities.

“We’re now spending more time directly with the dads while they’re incarcerated. That has helped us keep in contact with them on the outside [after release].” 
                                —former MFS-IP grantee (SD)

Grantees also argued that the timing of services was key. During the grant period, several sites switched the order in which they offered their family skills courses. They suggested that providing men with parenting and/or character-building courses before offering relationship education (rather than the other way around) proved more effective in engaging prospective participants. Perspectives differed somewhat on the most desirable timing of services relative to the incarceration term, but several grantees (including those that had focused more on immediate pre-release services in their MFS-IP programs) argued for engaging men early and often during the incarceration term. Staff-participant relationships that were built via frequent contact before men began preparing for imminent release seemed more likely to endure through the transition out into the community. Grantees also suggested that frequent contact after release could make the difference between meaningful ongoing engagement and complete loss of contact with the program.

“As someone is getting close to getting home, they’re focused on getting out there and getting a job.  You have to engage them in the family stuff way before they’re anticipating getting out of the gate—ideally as they’re coming in.”  
                                                —former MFS-IP grantee (NY)


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