Some grantees felt that defining “family” more broadly when serving incarcerated fathers would help increase the impact of programming. They suggested that incarcerated men’s romantic and parenting relationship structures are often complex, and also that incarcerated men often draw on crucial support from a family member other than a romantic partner (e.g., their mothers). Their ideas for refocusing eligibility criteria for family strengthening services for this population included:
- Asking each incarcerated enrollee to identify the family members who would play an important role during his/her incarceration and reentry and serving those family members
- Treating each child of an incarcerated parent as the center of a family unit and serving any adults who are involved in raising that child
Grantees believed that relationship strengthening work was a crucial aspect of reentry support for fathers, yet they had mixed perceptions of the MFS-IP initiative’s focus on serving the romantic partners of these fathers. Sites that continued to offer services after their MFS-IP grants tended to eliminate the requirement for a spouse or committed partner’s participation and to lessen their focus on providing services for these partners in the community. Those organizations that had expanded their eligibility criteria to allow incarcerated parents to participate without a co-enrolled partner tended to state that doing so had allowed them to serve more families with their resources.
“The eligibility criteria are much expanded compared to our MFS-IP program. [We’re] getting more bang for the buck and being able to meet more families’ needs.”
—former MFS-IP grantee (MN)