Families involved in the criminal justice system face overwhelming challenges. Yet research suggests that these families can benefit from additional support (Hairston, 1988, 1991). Directing resources toward programmatic and policy initiatives that support vulnerable families during incarceration and through reentry offers a potentially powerful strategy for reducing recidivism (Visher & Travis, 2003) and possibly generational effects attributable to incarceration (Roettger, 2009).
This brief highlights approaches to supporting incarcerated and reentering fathers in strengthening their parenting and co-parenting relationships. MFS-IP grantees employed varied and comprehensive strategies, including parenting skills training, relationship building and co-parenting support, child-friendly visitation, enhanced communication (e.g., video diaries, letter writing), and auxiliary services including case management and vocational training. They aimed not just to increase father-child contact but to improve the long-term quality of family relationships by teaching skills important for family functioning and providing opportunities to practice these skills. Although numerous barriers exist, grantees were able to successfully implement these services, and a rigorous evaluation is currently underway to assess their effectiveness. This evaluation will help to identify relationship-strengthening strategies that can be successfully delivered within the constraints of the correctional system; assess the effectiveness of such programs on family functioning, relationship quality and stability, and recidivism; and make recommendations for how these programs can be integrated and sustained with the correctional system.