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Fathers Forever: Minnesota Department of Corrections parenting classes

By Ellie McCann, Extension educator

Five family resiliency Extension educators taught a parenting program at three correctional facilities throughout 2017-2018. Through a 12 session, in person class (2 hours each), 76 fathers completed the full program. Pre and post surveys were administered before and after completion of the program. Session evaluations were also collected that assessed fathers’ experience of each class, what they learned, how they planned to use the information, and what the best part of the class was for them. Wilcoxon signed ranks tests were used to assess pre-post change on the various measures.  

Sharon Powell, Extension educator, about to teach at Stillwater Correctional Facility. Walking into the jail.
Sharon Powell, Extension educator, about to teach at Stillwater Correctional Facility. 

The parenting program attracted a diverse group of participants, representing a range of ages, ethnicity, marital status, and age of children. Of the 121 fathers enrolled, 76% had never taken a parenting class before. This opportunity allowed us to reach a large number of fathers who might never have otherwise signed up for a parenting class. To address this, transitioning offenders (and their families) were provided with a list of resources that included supporting materials and educational opportunities.

Fathers showed great improvement in many areas after participating in this program. This information tells us that much of the program content is effective. Participant comments reinforced their growth throughout the program. From before the class to after, fathers significantly improved in their parenting knowledge and skills, in their experience as a parent and in their relationship with the co-caregiver of their child.

There were, however, several items in which fathers saw no improvement. One explanation for the lack of growth may have to do with the perspective of the fathers before taking the class. Many of the post survey results are positive in regard to prison specific parenting stress, and so it may be the fathers who were able to complete the class, were already doing better in regards to these items and therefore had less room to improve. Another possibility is that the items in the prison-specific parenting stress measure may have been less impacted by the parent education offered and/or the time-frame of 12 weeks was too short to allow for visible change.

In the future educators will create additional opportunities to support offenders and their families as they transition out of incarceration. We have made many changes in our curriculum for the 2018-2019 year and are excited to implement and learn more through this teaching opportunity.
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