The MFS-IP grantees needed to design programming to suit the institutional and interpersonal contexts shaping incarcerated mens relationships with their children. Many grantees chose institution- and community-based course formats that enabled joint or concurrent class participation by incarcerated fathers and their co-parents (Exhibit 1).
Although staff used curricula to structure their courses, additional strategies proved crucial for engaging participants. Instructors at many sites guided participants in relating the ideas to their own lives first by exploring their childhood experiences with their fathers and then by considering how these experiences have shaped their skills and goals as parents themselves. Facilitator instruction was often combined with slides, videos, worksheets, and group discussion.
Some programs incorporated other participatory activities such as stories, games, or role playing to further encourage engagement. Staff and a participant who were interviewed as part of the implementation study suggested that group parenting classes in which students shared openly about the ways they were applying course content in their family relationships enabled motivated participants to begin transforming their attitudes toward their lives. Such formats gave men the opportunity to hear themselves and their classmates repeatedly articulate new ways of thinking about family relationships, while building connections with other incarcerated men who shared the goal of changing their parenting.
Instructor reputation, personality, and ability to relate to class enrollees affected participation. Interviewees at several sites emphasized the powerful influence of familiarity with and trust in the course instructor. At some sites, it was also seen as preferable for the instructor to have overcome parenting challenges similar to the ones faced by the students, or to be perceived as outside of the prison authority structure. Some sites, including Centerforce (California), Child and Family Services of New Hampshire/New Hampshire Department of Corrections, and the Osborne Association (New York), helped to address this need by recruiting peer educators to assist in delivering or even developing their parenting curricula. These educators, typically incarcerated fathers who had graduated from a prior course and been trained as peer leaders, served as role models and helped participants apply the course content to their own lives.