Notes from the Field

Children of Incarcerated Parents

For two years, Family Service Association of Monroe County addressed the issues facing incarcerated parents and their children. When a parent was incarcerated, their kids faced the trauma of sudden separation and they often experienced fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, and guilt. The behavioral consequences for these kids could be severe: emotional disturbance, failure in school, delinquency, and the risk of intergenerational incarceration.

Strengthening Parents &
Families Now for a Successful Future

Parenting and life skills education, contact visits with their children, and support services to families constituted Family Service Association’s Families in Transition (FIT) program. FIT viewed the family as an important resource for change. A collaborative effort of Family Service Association of Monroe County, Indiana University, and the Monroe County Correctional Center, FIT was funded by the Indiana Children’s Trust Fund. It is one of many programs across the country that was developed in response to research demonstrating a positive relationship between parole success and the maintenance of strong family ties while incarcerated.

Ninety inmates and their children and families participated in the program since its inception. Seeking to go beyond what was offered in most parenting programs, FIT chose H. Stephen Glenn’s “Developing Capable People™” (DCP) program as the central curriculum. The important components of typical parenting programs (i.e. time-outs, toilet training, developmental stages, etc.) were included. However, DCP allows Families in Transition to expand on those components through the development of positive self-perceptions and life skills. DCP teaches inmates to foster in their children assets that strengthen important human qualities such as resiliency and self-sufficiency.

An unexpected but welcome outcome of the program was the inmate’s own awareness of the importance of nurturing these assets in not only their children, but in themselves as well. As inmates develop more healthy self-perceptions and effective life skills, they increase their chances of future success for themselves, their children, their families, and their communities.

No Glass Barriers – Family Contact Visits

Family contact visits were the centerpiece of the FIT program. Children were given an opportunity to have contact with their parents that was more natural and nurturing than visits behind glass. Kids could feel the emotional and physical warmth of their parents’ presence, if only for a short time every two weeks. They allowed a child to sit on their daddy’s lap and draw or to get tickled and hugged by their mom. The visits also gave inmates an opportunity to apply the DCP concepts they were learning in the program.

Families reported that the contact visits were a favorite outing for their children. The excited and happy cohort of babies, toddlers, and older children seen in the lobby of the jail every other Thursday and Sunday spoke to the importance of these contact visits, even under trying circumstances. The inmates reported more bonding with their families and renewed confidence that they can succeed as parents and partners.