How do you parent a child if you’re behind bars? How can you steer your child away from some of the life decisions you made? And possibly the greatest challenge – how do you learn to readjust to a two-year-old’s tantrums or a teenager’s misbehavior after you return home?    

Years before our executive director, Dr. Ben de Haan, and research director, Dr.  J. Mark Eddy, joined Partners for Our Children, they worked together with numerous collaborators in Oregon to develop a program to address these types of questions. The program – Parenting Inside Out – helps incarcerated parents prepare for the parenting challenges they’ll face after leaving prison.

“We don’t often think about it, but many prisoners have children at home. Today, more than half of all prisoners in the U.S. have children under the age of 18,” said Dr. Eddy. “Considering there were virtually no evidence-based programs specifically designed and tested for criminal justice-involved parents, we knew we had to do something.”

Parenting Inside Out was a collaborative effort between the Oregon Department of CorrectionsOregon Social Learning Center(OSLC) and Pathfinders of Oregon. The program was designed to strengthen the bond between the parent (inmate) and his/her child during visitations, teach effective parenting strategies and also help the parent identify strategies to prevent future incarceration.

Work on the program began as the state of Oregon was designing a new prison for women, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. A multi-disciplinary team, co-led by Dr. Eddy; Dr. Rex Newton, a psychologist who spent his career working with parents in prison, on probation and parole; and Charles R. Martinez, Jr., a scientist at OSLC and expert on parent management training and interventions with diverse populations, spent three years developing the program, and six years examining its impact on incarcerated mothers and fathers both inside and outside of prison. Tracy Schiffmann, an instructional designer and expert on adult learning theory, was the lead curriculum writer. Danita Herrera was the project coordinator on the study, which is the largest study of its type ever conducted.

Inmates could ask to participate in the study, which was delivered in minimum and medium security “releasing institutions” for men and women in the Willamette Valley, where inmates came during the end of their sentences to prepare for their return home. Parenting Inside Out was found to have a variety of positive impacts in a long-term, randomized controlled trial. Compared to study participants who were randomly assigned not to receive the program, parents in the Parenting Inside Outgroup were less likely to be rearrested, more likely to be involved in the lives of their children and less likely to be depressed or report substance abuse after leaving prison. In 2014, the program was added to the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

A variety of papers have been published on the study. Dr. Eddy has also co-edited a relevant volume called Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners, published by the Urban Institute Press.

Parenting Inside Out was created to respond to a need of the adult corrections system in Oregon. At POC, we work on projects designed to meet identified needs in Washington’s child welfare system. A general area of need is evidence-based programs that are developed specifically for child welfare-involved families and that are not cost-prohibitive to deliver to families.

That’s why POC is leading the effort to develop an “open-source” parenting program, which will be non-proprietary, affordable, adaptable and widely disseminated in Washington State and beyond. We are currently in the process of developing this program in close collaboration with the DSHS Children’s Administration and other key partners, including Seattle Children’s Hospital. Once developed, the program will be tested in a randomized controlled trial. Read more about the program here or email us your questions – info@partnersforourchildren.org.

Stay tuned for a blog post focused on this new effort!