The Pathfinder Network Launches Enhanced Visiting Pilot Program for Incarcerated Parents in Oregon

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Parenting Inside Out Phase II Provides Opportunity to Strengthen Connections Between Incarcerated Parents and Their Children

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“In Oregon alone there are 70,000 children who have had a parent in prison or jail—it is important for these kids to know they are loved and that their parents want to spend time with them,” said TPN director of corrections programs Sheri Sandoval.

After a year of development, this month The Pathfinder Network (TPN) began piloting its new parenting program, Parenting Inside Out (PIO) Phase II: Enhanced Visiting. An advanced skills development and parent-child visiting program for incarcerated parents, PIO Phase II builds upon the evidence-based Parenting Inside Out® (PIO) curriculum and provides special focus on strengthening positive parenting practices through individual and group coaching on communication, connection and planning for life as a parent after release. With a strengths-based and holistic approach, the program supports incarcerated parents as well provides materials and resources for children and caregivers, all with the goal of enhancing the parent-child relationship, increasing positive family engagement and mitigating the impact of parental incarceration on children.

PIO Phase II is a pilot project made possible by a federal Second Chance Act grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and a partnership with the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC). Over the next two years, the pilot is projected to serve more than 140 incarcerated parents at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution, along with their children and caregivers of their children.

“We are committed to working together with the parents, caregivers, children and staff, as well as with our partners at DOC and the Department of Human Services, in order to provide opportunities for children to have healthy, structured and positive interactions with their parents,” shared Milo Dittrich, TPN corrections program manager over seeing PIO Phase II. “When people are dealing with difficult things, we can meet them where they are to provide tangible support and walk alongside with them.”

Once parents have completed PIO, they are eligible to apply for the PIO Phase II program, which provides advanced skill development of core PIO topics and includes lessons on communication with children, child centered parenting and nurturing children’s individuality. Over the course of three months, parents participate in 30 hours of advanced skills development and practice workshops with trained TPN coaches, one-on-one coaching, monthly enhanced coached visits with their children, post-visit debrief sessions, and peer support groups. Additionally, coaches partner with parents to develop individualized parenting re-entry plans that include identifying relevant community-based services for ongoing support after they release. All parents and families who participate in the program are also invited to an annual family engagement event. The first two cohorts of the program consist of 12 mothers and fathers, and around 20 children ranging in age from infant to 17 and living across the state of Oregon and parts of Washington.

Unlike many existing programs currently available for incarcerated parents, a key component of PIO Phase II provides ongoing support and resources for children and caregivers, addressing the barriers that often prevent positive visiting experiences and building protective factors that reduce the social and emotional impact of having an incarcerated parent. Before visits, TPN coaches offer outreach to the families to develop a relationship and prepare children and caregivers for what to expect from the program. Coaches also provide developmentally specific support materials to children that mirror what the incarcerated parents are learning along with referrals to community resources when needed.

A portion of the grant award will fund transportation and lodging costs for caregivers and children traveling from far away, and efforts to increase contact through video calls and technology are underway. Additionally, PIO Phase II includes a trauma informed emotional intelligence training for visiting security staff in order to promote the creation of safer institutions and visiting spaces that allow for empowerment, growth and healing for the families.

“In Oregon alone there are 70,000 children who have had a parent in prison or jail—it is important for these kids to know they are loved and that their parents want to spend time with them,” said TPN director of corrections programs Sheri Sandoval, citing a 2016 policy report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “PIO Phase II provides the opportunity to not only increase contact between children and their incarcerated parents, but to really support families throughout the process.”

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The Pathfinder Network is a 501 (c) (3) social service agency founded in 1993 with a mission to provide justice system-impacted individuals and families the tools and support they need to be safe and thrive in their communities. The Pathfinder Network provides cognitive-behavioral programs, parenting programs, education and support services for pro-social living to adults in the Oregon prison system and to children and families in the community.

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Rachel Namson
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