Parenting from Prison: Innovative Programs to Support Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers. Structured Visitation Activities


Three MFS-IP programs, the Osborne Association (New York), Child and Family Services of New Hampshire/New Hampshire Department of Corrections, and the Shelby County Division of Corrections (Tennessee), used parent-child visitation as an opportunity to actively support participants in cultivating new parenting skills. These semi-structured efforts included providing family meals, marking holidays and birthdays with special activities, conducting joint skills-building activities with fathers and children, and devoting parts of visitation time to group conversations or games. In addition, the Osborne Association hired graduates of their correctional facilitybased parenting classes to staff their child-friendly visitation areas. These men served as informal mentors, available to answer questions from other fathers or visiting children and to encourage positive parent-child interaction.

Supporting Parenting Skills in Action:
The Osborne Association (Brooklyn, NY)
The Osborne Association worked with correctional facility administrators to establish Childrens Centers at several New York State prisons. At these specially equipped centers, parents and children could participate together in skills-building sessions. The 1530 minute semi-structured sessions offered by Osborne allowed fathers to practice the parenting skills they learned in the agencys parenting course, interact directly with their children, and receive feedback and parenting support from experienced fathers.

The Shelby County Division of Corrections (Tennessee) reported combining one-on-one and group activities for fathers and their children with concurrent activities for co-parents or caregivers (see schedule at right). Families were invited to participate in these special visits approximately once a week from the time the family enrolled in programming until the fathers release. In addition to these semi-structured activities, the program offered each family up to two family group conferencing sessions facilitated by a program staff member. During these highly structured sessions, incarcerated participants could meet with significant family members such as their parents, spouses or romantic partners, and co-parents of their children to discuss expectations, fears, and hopes related to reentry, according to a predetermined list of important life domains. Implemented by other grantees in slightly different formats (including long-distance videoconference), these structured conversations provided an opportunity for families to overcome fears, generate realistic expectations, and plan collaboratively for a successful return to the community.

Involving Co-parents and Caregivers:
Shelby County Division of Corrections (Memphis, TN)
A typical child-friendly visit lasted up to three hours and included the following activities for fathers, children, and co-parents in the prisons dedicated child-friendly visitation area:
  • A 30-minute dinner provided by the program for fathers, co-parents, and their children;
  • An optional relationship education class offered jointly to fathers and co-parents, during which visiting children engaged in supervised play activities with program staff; and
  • Up to 90 minutes of father-child visitation, during which co-parents participated in activities in an adjacent room, such as guest lectures on domestic violence and literacy from community advocates.

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