Parenting from Prison: Innovative Programs to Support Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers. Family Context: The Importance of the Co-parent

04/30/2010

Parenting programs serving incarcerated fathers encounter the reality that childrens mothers (or caregivers) often serve as gatekeepers, mediating contact between fathers and children. Poehlmann (2005) found that the quality of relationships between incarcerated parents and their childrens caregivers exerted a strong influence on frequency of parent-child contact. Addressing such co-parenting relationships is important because research has shown that co-parenting marked by high cooperation and low conflict is associated with greater relationship quality and stability between parents and with better child outcomes (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006). Thus, to be effective, parenting supports for incarcerated men need to address the co-parenting relationship.

One unique aspect of MSF-IP programs is their strong focus on co-parenting. In addition to some grantees involving the co-parent in parenting skills components, all grantees offered family strengthening and relationship-building services that involved a co-parent or a committed romantic partner with whom the father shared parenting responsibility. Such services included relationship and family counseling, support groups, relationship education, mentoring and coaching services, family case management, and domestic violence education. Moreover, many grantees offered holistic services to increase the likelihood of successful reentry, including financial and vocational skills training and substance abuse treatment (see Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1.
Family Strengthening Services Provided by MFS Grantees to Enhance Relationship Quality and Family Environment
Grantee Parenting Education Other Parenting Services and Supports
Centerforce, California Curriculum: Back to the Family (offered in fathers-only and joint formats)
  • Relationship education
  • Family case management
  • Family skills mentoring/coaching
Child and Family Services of New Hampshire Curricula: Fathers Connecting with Children, Long Distance Dads (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Family reentry planning
  • Video visiting
Indiana Department of Correction Curriculum: 24/7 Dad (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota Curriculum: Long Distance Dads (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Family case management
  • Domestic violence education
  • Video diaries
Maryland Department of Human Resources Curriculum: InsideOut Dad (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Domestic violence education
  • Support groups
  • Case management
  • Employment assistance
Council on Crime and Justice, Minnesota Curriculum: Families in Focus (offered to fathers and co-parents separately)
  • Relationship education
  • Family case management
  • Support groups
  • Relationship and family counseling
  • Financial skills building
  • Employment assistance
  • Housing placement assistance
New Jersey Department of Corrections Curriculum: Active Parenting Now (offered jointly to fathers and co-parents)
  • Relationship education
  • Family case management
  • Financial skills building
  • Substance abuse treatment
Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency, Michigan Curricula: Caring for My Family (offered to fathers only) and Love and Logic (offered jointly to fathers and co-parents)
  • Relationship education
  • Support groups
  • Family reunification planning
  • Case management
  • Crisis intervention
Osborne Association, New York Curriculum: Basic Parenting (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Relationship and family counseling
  • Family skills mentoring/coaching
Shelby County Division of Corrections, Tennessee Curriculum: InsideOut Dad (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Family group conferencing
  • Domestic violence education
  • Financial skills building
  • Employment assistance
  • Case management
The RIDGE Project, Ohio Curriculum: Keeping FAITH (offered to fathers only)
  • Relationship education
  • Support groups
  • Family skills mentoring/coaching

While program staff had little trouble engaging eligible men in parenting-related programming, they faced many challenges in recruiting the co-parents of their incarcerated male participants. Several approaches proved effective in engaging co-parents in participating in the classes, either jointly or separately, including:

  • contacting co-parents persistently and through multiple means;
  • emphasizing to each co-parent how participation could benefit the couples child or children; and
  • providing participation supports to co-parents, such as transportation assistance (e.g., gas cards), child care, and meals.

In some cases, grantees leveraged the popularity of men-only parenting classes as a gateway to engage men and their partners in other services oriented toward relationship strengthening and family support. Staff from Child and Family Services of New Hampshire New Hampshire Department of Corrections noted that incarcerated men who might otherwise be resistant to family programs were often drawn to participate in parenting classes. After instructors established trust and rapport with fathers, they succeeded in introducing men to the idea of improving their co-parenting relationships. Once engaged, participants reported particular interest in course material related to parent-to-parent communication and co-parenting with former romantic partners. Staff believed that men were strongly motivated by the desire to improve their communication skills for the ultimate benefit of their children. Service providers at other MFS-IP sites speculated that approaching fathers and partners early in the fathers incarceration term, when family relationships might still be relatively intact, also eased recruitment.

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