Abstract: Variation in Residential and Non-Residential Fathers' Involvement after Prison: The Positive Influence of in-Prison Child Contact (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Variation in Residential and Non-Residential Fathers' Involvement after Prison: The Positive Influence of in-Prison Child Contact

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Pajarita Charles, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Luke Muentner, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Branden McLeod, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Paternal incarceration is an issue of serious concern with far-reaching consequences for children and family members. Most incarcerated fathers receive minimal transition planning during prison and there are limitations placed on how parents and children can stay in touch while separated due to incarceration. Despite research that suggests a link between fathers’ strong family ties, contact with their children, and positive reentry outcomes, less is understood about how father involvement varies after prison and the factors that influence the father-child relationship. This is important to understand because positive family relationships, including the ability to continue in one’s role as a parent, may be linked to decreased recidivism and improved child outcomes. To address this gap, this study examined the influence of parent-child contact during prison on three domains of father involvement after fathers were released from prison.

Methods: Data come from the Multi-Site Family Study on Incarceration, Parenting, and Partnering, which longitudinally captures the lives of fathers while incarcerated and after release. Our sample includes fathers previously incarcerated and interviewed at approximately 9-months post-release from prison (n=389). Fathers were an average of 32-years-old, majority Black (n=223), in romantic relationships (n=289), and averaged 3 children. They had been incarcerated for approximately 2 years and nearly two-thirds (n=241) lived with their child prior to incarceration. Our outcomes span three domains of father involvement: accessibility (residence and frequency of seeing child); engagement (frequency of weekly activities); and responsibility (financial support and/or decision-making). Predictors included three dummy indicators of contact: (1) visits, (2) calls, and (3) letters with children while incarcerated. Controls included demographic characteristics, child characteristics, co-parent relationship quality, and justice involvement. Logistic and OLS regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between contact measures and father involvement. After predicting residence among all fathers, models were run separately for resident and non-resident fathers.

Results: Results suggest that visits during prison are associated with increased odds of residence post-release (p<.001). Calls were associated with increased frequency of non-resident fathers’ engagement with their child after prison (p<.05). Letter contact was associated with increased frequency of non-resident fathers seeing their child (p<.05) while also predictive of higher engagement among resident fathers (p<.05). Having more children (p<.05) and being incarcerated for longer periods (p<.05) were associated with decreased father involvement. Older fathers (p<.05), Black fathers (p<.05), having post-release employment (p<.05), and pre-incarceration father involvement (p<.001) and residence (p<.001) were all predictive of post-release involvement.

Conclusions and Implications: Our study highlights the importance of different types of contact with children while in prison for father involvement in the post-release period. Specifically, in-person visits seem to matter especially for resident fathers, while other means of communication (calls and letters) appear to be important among non-resident fathers and their propensity to see and do activities with their children after incarceration. These findings have program and policy implications for social workers and advocates working in criminal justice settings calling for attention to the ways that father-child interactions during prison can facilitate father involvement after incarceration.