• October 2021
  • Vol. 22, No. 9

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Promising Practices for Strengthening Families Affected by Parental Incarceration

Over 5 million children in the United States have parents who are jailed or incarcerated, and a disproportionate number of these children are Black or Latino. Parental incarceration has a profound effect on family well-being and is a key risk factor for poor outcomes for children, which can lead to involvement with the child welfare system. A literature review from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services presents studies about family-strengthening programs that seek to maintain relationships between children and their incarcerated parents.

The review aimed to answer the following research questions:

  • What areas should family-strengthening programs explicitly address in their models?
  • What programs and practices are currently being used to strengthen families involved with the justice system?
  • What does the research and evidence indicate about programs that aim to strengthen families involved with the justice system?
With guidance from ACF, the researchers identified six key focus areas based on their review of the literature. These include engaging caregivers who are not incarcerated, such as the remaining parent and grandparents; considering the children's ages in program design; considering the incarcerated parent's gender and role within the family; engaging cross-system collaboration; implementing strategies that engage both the incarcerated parent and their family; and ensuring the family is financially stable.
 
The study found that it is important for family-strengthening programs to address the six key focus areas in their program design and implementation. Of the 59 programs reviewed, most implemented strategies to engage parents involved with the criminal justice system and considered a parent's gender and role. However, there were fewer programs that considered children's ages in the program design and engaged nonincarcerated caregivers and even fewer that promoted families' financial stability or engaged in cross-system collaboration as part of the program model.
 
To learn more about the importance of family-strengthening programs for families dealing with parental incarceration, read Promising Practices for Strengthening Families Affected by Parental Incarceration: A Review of the Literature.
 

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