By: Eugene Schneeberg, Senior Fatherhood & Families Technical Specialist, ICF
The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.
In the United States, there are more than 5 million children living with a parent who went to jail or prison. The challenges facing formerly incarcerated fathers and mothers can seem insurmountable and overwhelming. In addition to the responsibility of parenting, they often struggle to obtain employment, housing, access to benefits, and reliable transportation because of criminal background checks, housing restrictions, or holds on their driver’s licenses until their fees and fines are paid off. They may have accrued large arrearages owed in child support during incarceration. Many are also working to mend broken or damaged relationships with their families.
That is why accessing the right supports—stable housing, reliable networks, ties to employment, building healthy relationship and parenting skills—are essential.
Innovative programs across the country are providing these critical supports to formerly incarcerated parents, including fathers like 23-year-old Robert* and 21-year-old David,* who became fathers before they went to prison.
Robert, for instance, joined the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative (T.O.R.I.) program after he was released. With T.O.R.I, he enrolled in a family reunification class and received support to find employment. He completed a 12-month program that taught him new skills to not only provide for and care for his daughter, but also skills to resolve conflict and co-parent effectively.
David, on the other hand, got involved with the RIDGE Project while in prison in Ohio. Through the RIDGE TYRO program, he was able to take classes on leadership, job preparedness, and building character. When David was released, he had the support of a caseworker, who helped him complete job applications and prep for interviews. Within a few weeks, David found a new job and was able to secure an apartment.
The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) has free tools and resources designed for those who support fathers and families, including those impacted by incarceration. The Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit includes modules on working with incarcerated and returning fathers. A few key takeaways:
1. Offer pre-release assistance with child support, education, and job training to prepare dads for reentry.
2. Encourage dads to write letters to their children on a regular basis; create books or art for their children; and read a book to their child, either over the phone or via audio or video recording.
3. Show fathers the value in developing a working relationship with their child’s mother and provide them with skills to improve this relationship.
4. Connect with the mother and family before a father’s release.
5. Provide relationship skills classes for couples when possible and link fathers to community services upon release.
6. Develop relationships with local employers to help dads with employment opportunities.
7. Counsel men to be upfront with potential employers about their criminal record.
The NRFC’s Connect with Programs page provides innovative programs across the country that provide parenting and employment support. These programs are providing critical supports for formerly incarcerated fathers, mothers and their children—and helping break the cycle of generational incarceration.