By: Andreea Mitran, M.P.P., and Colette Tano, M.P.P.

Andreea Mitran, M.P.P., is a Senior Associate at ICF where she works on technical assistance and research and evaluation projects related to healthy marriages and relationships, workforce development, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Colette Tano, M.P.P., is a Research Associate at ICF where she works on providing support on the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families.


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.

For November, In Focus is sharing information on ways that relationship education can be integrated into all aspects of human services– all posts are focusing on work that ICF has done as part of the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families (Resource Center). The Resource Center helps agencies develop the capacity to promote healthy relationship skills in a way that meets both their needs and those of the families they serve. As a service of the Office of Family Assistance, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Resource Center supports the integration of healthy marriage and relationship education into targeted safety-net service delivery systems as part of a comprehensive strategy to strengthen families and promote family self-sufficiency.


On any given day 2.7 million children, or 1 in 28, have a parent in prison or jail. Between 1991 and 2007, the number of children with a father in prison grew by 77%, and during the same period, the number of children with a mother in prison grew 131%.

Studies have shown that parental incarceration can be more traumatic to children than a parent’s death or divorce. Dealing with the loss of an incarcerated parent and the associated stigma of involvement in the criminal justice system can have negative consequences that can manifest in a child’s life as psychological strain, antisocial behavior, suspension or expulsion from school, economic hardship and criminal activity.

In addition to these hardships, it’s important to recognize that incarceration disproportionately impacts poor people and racial minorities. Children in these populations are already exposed to risk factors that could negatively impact their life outcomes. Adding parental incarceration into the equation could further compound the disadvantages that these children experience, setting them further behind their peers, and contributing to racial and social class inequalities.

However, research suggests that the strength or weakness of the parent-child bond and the quality of the child and family’s social support system play significant roles in the child’s ability to overcome challenges and succeed in life. Service providers can support healthy relationship building for the child and incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parent by incorporating healthy relationship training and education, including conflict management, communication, financial planning, and parenting, into existing programming in correctional systems, child welfare agencies and other safety-net services. This kind of support for families involved in the criminal justice system can promote the well-being of children and their families by helping them achieve stability and safety and strengthen their families to successfully care for their children. Moreover, practitioners find that interventions that address these factors simultaneously have a positive impact on the incarcerated parent’s re-entry process.

Service providers may find the free resources and support from the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families (Resource Center) will aid them in assisting families affected by incarceration to achieve economic, emotional, and social stability. Our research brief on Healthy Relationships, Employment, and Reentry and webinar on Strengthening Incarcerated Families through Healthy Relationship Education are just a couple of the free resources that the Resource Center offers. You can find more resources like this, and in-person and virtual trainings for agency staff and leadership, technical assistance for interested stakeholders, and multi-media resources, including videos and podcasts, on the Resource Center’s website.


Want to read more? Click the link for this Resource Center research-to-practice brief, which this blog was adapted from, or browse the Resource Center’s Library for more research on relationship education. The Resource Center’s Virtual Training Center also offers a number of free, research-based courses available online for both service providers and families.