Parenting from the inside: assessing a curriculum for incarcerated mothers

Tuerk, Elena Hontoria, Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Virginia
Loper, Ann, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia
Fan, Xitao, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Lawrence, Edith, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Reeve, Ronald, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia

The study assessed a nine-session, cognitive-behavioral parenting curriculum for incarcerated mothers (N = 44). Using a randomized-controlled design and pre-post-comparisons, the study examined the effectiveness of the curriculum on indices of inmate adjustment and frequency of contact with the participants' children. It was hypothesized that experimental group participants would demonstrate improved adjustment at post-test compared to (a) adjustment at pre-test, and (b) waitlist-control participants who had not yet received the intervention. In addition, the study assessed which treatment components may have contributed to outcomes.

Secondary objectives of the study were to describe the behavioral adjustment of inmates' children as reported by the children's caregivers (n = 13) and to compare perceptions of inmates and caregivers regarding parenting alignment and frequency of contact (n = 26)

Results from the study found significant differences between pre- and post-test on depression (n = 23) as measured by the Beck Depression Inventory- II (BDI-II; Beck, Steer & Brown, 1996), with participants showing, on average, five-point decreases in BDI-II scores. Participants also showed improved competence and decreased visitation stress as measured by the Parenting Stress Index for Incarcerated Women (PSI-IW; Houck & Loper, 2002). In addition, the experimental group demonstrated significantly decreased stress related to visitation with their children, compared to the control group. Evaluation of treatment components indicated that course attendance significantly predicted decreased depression, controlling for pre-test scores on the BDI-II.

Caregiver reports of children's adjustment on the Behavior Assessment System for Children - Second Edition (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) indicated significant differences between the behavioral functioning of boys and girls, with girls "At-Risk" for externalizing behaviors and overall behavioral maladjustment. Comparisons between inmate and caregiver reports of parenting alignment and contact indicated that inmates perceived significantly greater alignment and more frequent communication than did caregivers. Nevertheless, both inmates and caregivers reported average alignment and weekly to bi-weekly contact.

Overall, results from the study suggest that cognitive-behavioral parenting groups can significantly improve inmates' mental health and self-perceptions of parenting skill. Future study should investigate secondary effects of course participation on children and caregivers' wellbeing.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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