Incarcerated Parents

Volunteers with the Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, held their first “Parenting from Afar” class for men on Monday at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. The initial session, taught by cousins Brandon Chapman, left and Andrew Murphy, marked the first time the 13-year-old program has been offered to men.

After more than a decade of hosting parenting classes and support groups for jailed women, a longtime Frederick volunteer organization is offering a similar program for men.

Volunteers with the Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, or COIPP, held their first “Parenting From Afar” class for men on Monday. The initial session, taught by cousins Brandon Chapman and Andrew Murphy, marked the first time the 13-year-old program has been offered to men.

“It was a powerful first session,” Chapman said. “Every man in the class has so much pride in being a father, and they want to be the best father that they can be.”

COIPP was founded in 2005 by Shari Ostrow Scher with the mission of assisting the families of people awaiting trial or serving sentences in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. Since then, hundreds of women have participated in their weekly “Parenting from Afar” classes, Scher said.

In 2016, COIPP partnered with the Mental Health Association of Frederick County to form the Families Impacted by Incarceration Program. They overhauled and expanded the parenting classes, including, now, a similar program for men.

“It’s not just the mommy who is impacted,” Scher said. “Kids want both parents in their lives. We want to teach Daddy quality parenting and parenting from afar.”

Chapman has worked with at-risk youth in various capacities for more than eight years. Murphy is a Montgomery County middle school teacher. For both, it’s their first time working with incarcerated parents in a jail setting, but they draw on their own relationships with their parents and their own experiences as fathers to participate with the men in the program.

Although states including Maryland have in recent years led the way in reducing their prison populations, the United States continues to have the world’s largest incarcerated population. And many of those paying their debt to society are separated from their children.

More than 5 million American children have a parent who has been incarcerated, according to a 2015 study by the research organization Child Trends. About 1.7 million had a parent who usually lives with them who was incarcerated at the time of the study. An increase in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) was also found to be associated with having an incarcerated parent.

Part of the “Parenting from Afar” 10-week curriculum focuses on dealing with ACEs, Murphy said.

“A lot of it is informing parents of the needs of children and the development of children,” Murphy said. “We teach the parent to focus on what they can do while they are afar.”

The first cohort in the program includes 10 men who collectively are parents to 33 children. Chapman and Murphy plan to use the weekly meetings to workshop responses to different scenarios, such as dealing with disciplinary issues. They encourage the men to stay connected with their kids through postcards and phone calls.

“We’re trying to get the men to feel like they were children and their fathers were away,” Chapman said. “It’s a safe place to speak about fatherhood and honesty and how to be the best father they can be from afar.”

Honesty is crucial to a healthy relationship with anyone, Chapman said, including between a child and their incarcerated parent. “Be honest about where you are. Be honest about your mistakes,” he said.

It is better to tell children the truth about where their father is than to let them find out on their own later, said Barbara May, MHA director of family support services. “What the kids are making up in their heads about where the parent is might be a lot scarier than the truth, is what we’ve come to learn.”

In addition to honesty, one of the crucial components of the course is supporting the child’s caregiver, be it the mother, a grandparent or another guardian.{p class=”p1”}”We want them to be supportive of the person who has taken on the burden while the father is away,” Chapman said.{p class=”p1”}Working in the jail doesn’t intimidate Chapman or Murphy, and both men said they found the class participants eager to engage, learn and share their emotions.{p class=”p1”}”Most of the people are in [jail] for nonviolent crimes,” Murphy said. “They made bad decisions or they were dealt a bad hand and played it poorly. But it’s never too late to change and turn things around for anybody. People can change with love and support.”

Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP.

(1) comment


Nicely done, guys. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with these men.

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