Call to expand Limerick Prison parenting programme

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A FAMILY intervention programme has helped inmates at Limerick Prison develop better parenting skills and a more family supportive environment within the prison walls.

A report from the University of Limerick (UL) is now calling for an expansion of the family intervention programme into other prisons. The programme, evaluated by UL, took place over 18 months and included 15 families with 28 children, whose father was in prison.

The men who participated in the programme said they had an improved understanding of their role as fathers and parents, improved understanding of the difficulties their partners faced and that they had engaged with their families in a more meaningful way.

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Their partners reported that group activities, which used elements from the Parents Plus Parenting Programme, provided an opportunity to discuss everyday challenges and that they had increased their communication and conflict resolution skills.

The report authors Professor Orla Muldoon and Daragh Bradshaw of the University of Limerick cited international research, which shows that maintaining imprisoned fathers’ contact with their partners and children can reduce re-offending and protect vulnerable children from criminal careers.

The Family Links programme was developed in partnership between the Tallaght based Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), the Irish Prison Service (IPS), and the Parents Plus Charity, and its delivery was supported by the Bedford Row Family Agency in Limerick.

Four different training courses were rolled out for prison staff during the programme, particularly working with Prison Officers and prison education staff. Formal parent education was delivered to the prisoners, while their partners received similar supports in the community and enhanced family visits took place.

Director General of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan said this programme is in line with their commitment to support families affected by parental incarceration.

“Families on the margins are those most in need.

“An evidence based approach to improving prisoners’ relationship with their families, and the role model which fathers provide for their children, will reduce criminality and ultimately be of great benefit to society,” he added.

The programme was a first trial of its type in Ireland and also included a lot of learning about the challenges of providing intervention programmes within a prison environment.

by Alan Jacques

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