The Hippo


Jul 17, 2019








FCCNCF classroom. Courtesy photo.

 Children at risk

A report from the National Council on Family Relations released in 2018 found that children with incarcerated parents are:
 5 to 6 percent more likely to develop depression and anxiety
 18 to 33 percent more likely to exhibit aggression
 47 to 49 percent more at risk of infant mortality
 94 to 99 percent more at risk of childhood homelessness

Family ties behind bars
Teletherapy connects inmates and their families


 By Scott Murphy 
Family Ties, a new program providing virtual counseling services between inmates and their loved ones, will give kids better access to their incarcerated parents.
The New Hampshire Department of Corrections’ Family Connections Center will run Family Ties along with child and family counselors from Womankind Counseling Center in Concord, the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center and the University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy Center. 
“One of the areas where the [Family Connections Center] needed strengthening is connection between incarcerated parents and their children, whether it’s mending broken bridges or maintaining relationships,” said Kristina Toth, program administrator for the Family Connections Center. “We’re trying to create stronger families as a whole, as well as helping to strengthen co-parenting relationships for parents that are no longer a couple.”
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awarded a one-year, $25,000 grant to Womankind Counseling Center in Concord last December to launch Family Ties. 
The goal of Family Ties is to reach as many New Hampshire children with incarcerated parents as possible, which totals about 13,500, according to Toth. The Family Connections Center will work to coordinate therapy sessions for inmates, their children and their spouses or co-parents from early on in the parent’s sentence up until their release back into the community. Children and their caregivers will meet with a counselor at one of the program’s healthcare providers in Concord, Durham or Nashua, while the parents in jail will televisit into the session.
Family Ties is available to fathers at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord and the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin who have completed certain classes provided by the Family Connections Center. 
Toth said the program’s first participants began counseling in May, and there are currently only a small number of families in the program. This is due to a “slow start” because of the amount of time it takes to plan and recruit partner agencies that can provide counseling, Toth said. 
Barbara Frankel, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Center at UNH, said the center has a longstanding relationship with the Family Connections Center and received its first referral last month. She said the center is staffed by graduate students at UNH and provides a “dual purpose of providing quality training and an amazing service to the community.” She also said the center has a flexible fee scale, and participants in the Family Ties program could potentially continue counseling sessions at little or no cost.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to help incarcerated fathers and families to stay connected and build and maintain their relationships, so they can be stronger families when they return to the community,” Frankel said. “This is meant to help children manage the separation in a way that heals and makes parent connections possible once they are brought back together.”
Family Ties received an extension for its grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation until June 2019, by which point Toth hopes to reach the program’s initial goal of helping an estimated 240 children and 190 incarcerated parents. This includes a resiliency seminar which will teach incarcerated parents how to build coping skills and overcome adversities related to parenting behind bars. 
Over the next several months, Toth hopes to expand the program to include the Correctional Facility for Women in Concord, as well as other family health organizations across the state. She said the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center was the most recent organization to join Family Ties and is helping the program reach more families in southern New Hampshire. 
“Having these partnerships in place will help us continue the program [after June 2019],” said Toth. “We’re hoping to build a bigger network of organizations willing to work with these families.” 

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