This brief describes efforts of the national MFS-IP initiative to build collaborations between the criminal justice system and human service agencies to provide family support services to incarcerated fathers, their children, and their co-parents. These grants fund efforts to strengthen father-child bonds through parenting, co-parenting, and relationship-building classes; child-friendly visitation; communication support; and auxiliary services. Eleven of the 12 MFS-IP grants provide parenting as well as couple support.
Grantees combine established approaches to parenting skills training with innovative efforts to improve relationships between co-parents and increase father-child contact during incarceration. Recognizing the importance of material stability for successful parenting, many programs also work to address their participants vocational, financial, and housing needs through education, case management, and job placement assistance. Participation in all programs is voluntary. Furthermore, in the interest of protecting children and preventing domestic violence, many programs impose exclusion criteria that limit the participation of fathers convicted of sex offenses or child abuse, or of those subject to protective orders prohibiting contact with their co-parents or children.
We draw on data from a national implementation evaluation of these grantees, including site visits and interviews with key stakeholders from the MFS-IP programs during Years 1 to 3 of program delivery. We also present preliminary, descriptive data from baseline interviews with incarcerated fathers and co-parents involved in a multisite, longitudinal impact study. While programs funded under this mechanism will continue serving families through September 2011, this brief describes their efforts through Year 3 of the grant period (ending September 2009).