The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, DHHS, has awarded the Washington Department of Corrections a five-year, $7.5 million federal grant aimed at helping inmates with children transition back into society and be successful parents. Only five awards are set to be funded nationally.
“Incarceration doesn’t just impact offenders, it has deep impacts on their children too,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Helping these parents build and maintain a bond with their child can change the courses of their lives for the better.”
Offenders often face serious challenges upon release including unstable housing or homelessness, poverty, unemployment, mental illness, limited education, drug use and eroded family and social support. Most of them also are parents responsible for supporting and caring for children.
The Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility grant, awarded by the Office of Family Assistance, through the DHHS Administration for Children and Families, will provide funding for a range of services to incarcerated parents (both fathers and mothers) to both prepare them for release and then help build and sustain their success afterwards.
The program will focus on offenders reentering from three men’s and two women’s facilities in Southwest Washington to Thurston, Clark, Lewis and Cowlitz counties, which were identified as having among the highest rates of children with currently or formerly incarcerated parents in the state, according to a state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) report published in 2008.
Nationally, 54 percent of incarcerated offenders are parents with minor children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers, according a PEW Charitable Trusts report.
The main purposes of the grant are to strengthen positive relationships between parents and their children, enhance employment opportunities and increase education levels. More broadly, this work aims to increase public safety by reducing recidivism. The state Department of Corrections, DOC, projects at least 510 offenders, and their families, will be aided by the program over a 51-month period.
“We are extremely honored to receive this grant,” Department of Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner said. “It allows us to focus on programs targeted at parenting, healthy relationships, employment and education in partnership with a variety of other state agencies and community partners.”
The multi-faceted program will require all participants to complete two parenting courses (one before release and another after). It also will help offenders maintain family contact through video and in-person visits. For families without access to transportation, DOC can provide van service for partners and children to visit and attend program workshops.
In addition, participants will complete a job-seeking skills program before release. Once out of prison, staff funded through the grant will help offenders navigate the outside world by helping them connect to services, find employment and increase their education.
By improving post-incarceration employment, successful family reunification and recidivism reduction, this grant also supports two of Inslee’s Results Washington goals: Prosperous Economy and Healthy and Safe Communities.
One of the grant requirements is for a team of research-based evaluators to study program outcomes. The purpose is to learn from the experience of participants to make improvements and expand the evidence base for these types of interventions.
The evaluation team will be led by Dr. Mark Eddy, psychologist and research professor at Partners for Our Children in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington. He and his team have published extensively on a wide variety of topics related to incarcerated parents and their children.
The federal grant starts on Oct. 30, 2015. There will be nine-month planning period while DOC and its partners — including multiple DSHS divisions, local colleges, and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, among others — finalize plans, train staff and prepare for program implementation.
“This grant will allow us to holistically target services for this population in a way we haven’t done before,” said Jody Becker–Green, who oversees DOC’s family services unit. “Having a parent or other family incarcerated can lead to significant emotional, psychological, developmental and financial challenges for families.
“Through our collective action we strive to break cycles of inter-generational incarceration and adverse childhood experiences that have lifelong impacts,” she said.