Parenting in Prison: Evaluating an Intervention for Incarcerated Mothers and their Infants

It all started with an article.  Kate Krings, MS CCC-SLP, Lecturer in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Science, was reading The Atlantic one night in the Summer of 2015.  Written by Sarah Yager, the article tells the story of prison nursery programs in the United States.  Upon learning that one of these programs was one within 50 miles of UW’s campus, she said to herself, “I’m going. And I’m taking my students with me.”

Kate reached out to Felice Davis, Associate Superintendent at the Washington Correctional Center for Women (WCCW), to offer programs and workshops to incarcerated mothers and their babies at the Residential Parenting Program. These workshops utilized the Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk® and provided preventative strategies to bolster the communication development of the children through high quality parent-child interactions. Kate pursued Hanen certification and got permission from Elaine Weitzman, director of the Hanen Centre, to adapt this program for this unique population and environment.

As word spread about this program, Carol Hoerster, a UW SPHSC alum and former colleague of Kate’s at Seattle Public Schools, introduced Kate to Dr. Jean Kelly, founder and director of Promoting First Relationships, an evidence-based program promoting responsiveness and attachment in parent-child relationships.

In January 2016, Dr. Amy Pace joined the faculty in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, and a research-practice partnership was formed. Our innovative collaboration between researchers, educators, and clinicians significantly increases the odds of positive maternal and child outcomes in a challenging and complex prison environment.

Our mission is to positively impact the well-being of young children born in prison through empowerment and education of their incarcerated mothers.  We support and nurture caregiver-mother-child interactions to establish a strong communication foundation for language and social-emotional development.  We investigate and emphasize the importance of evidence-based methods for intervention with incarcerated mothers.  We are committed to serving a highly vulnerable and marginalized population with compassion, respect, and scientifically-based education programs.

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Another aspect of this project is the impact of service learning on graduate student clinicians’ experience. Service learning opportunities have been shown to provide deeper understanding of classroom learning and increase empowerment to create change in a community. We are examining if this experience provides graduate student clinicians with this type of in-depth learning and informs their future clinical practice. Our 2016-2017 team looks froward to their visit to WCCW on November 9th, 2016!

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