Twelve women, recently released from prison and clients of Friends of Guest House (FOGH), a non-profit organization in Alexandria, Virginia, attended a workshop run by Children of Imprisoned Parents International (COIPI).
COIPI and FOGH hosted the 90-minute workshop entitled Through the Eyes of Children of Incarceration at a church in Alexandria on March 23, 2017. The purpose of the workshop was to describe and discuss the challenges that provide major barriers for formerly incarcerated mothers who are trying to re-integrate into society and their family structures. The immediate outcomes of this workshop for the children and their mothers was an increase in knowledge about the effects of parental incarceration on children.
The agenda began with an overview by Hamed Farmand, President of COIPI, in which he discussed his personal experience with incarceration and also provided an overview of the workshop and COIPI services. Following Hamed’s introduction, Chelante’ Mitchell, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, discussed the physiological and psychological challenges children face when separated from mothers who are incarcerated.
Chelante’ also talked about general parenting and explained the key points of positive parenting. At the conclusion of the program, Chelante’ explained that communication plays a key role in the process of building relationships between children and parents, especially in the case of incarceration.
At the conclusion of the workshop, 11 out of 12 participants completed a workshop evaluation form. On average, the 11 participants each had 2.5 children ranging in age from 8 months to 32 years-old.
Nearly 85 percent of the participants–11 mothers and 2 staff members–agreed or strongly agreed that the presenters, Hamed and Chelante’, were prepared for the workshop. Overall, 68 percent of participants thought the workshop was excellent or very good.
Nearly 80 percent of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that the workshop successfully met their personal needs, and almost 70 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they will be able to apply the skills and information they learned in the workshop to their everyday lives. About 70 percent of participants would recommend the workshop to other formerly incarcerated peers.
Although the workshop provided fruitful results, 38 percent of participants indicated they would attend a full session of the program; 31 percent hadn’t decided yet; and 31 percent said they would not attend a full-session program.
To formally understand the low engagement in future full-session workshops, we reviewed the comments received in the evaluation forms and we also received feedback from FOGH.
The feedback showed that the workshop didn’t fully engage the participants in sharing their personal experiences. The workshop consisted of four important topics discussed within one hour. With insufficient time to delve into each topic, it was difficult for participants to be actively involved in the workshop. COIPI’s Program and Design committee immediately made a couple of significant changes to the detail of the workshop, the first being to make it a more facilitated conversation in which the mothers can share personal experiences; and second, to provide more information that is specifically related to the mothers’ needs.
Further, we noted that our discussion of the effects of parental incarceration on children may have affected the participants’ willingness to share personal stories or reflections because of feelings of shame. It is a challenge for an organization like COIPI to strike a balance between discussing the effects on children while, at the same time, showing sensitivity to the feeling of the parents/mothers. COIPI is utilizing its connections with other organizations to gain feedback on this challenge. We are currently planning another improved workshop for the staff of Wesley Housing Development to be held on June 20th.