Connecting for Success
What is Connecting for Success?
The Dorchester County Health Department’s Connecting for Success program is a three-pronged system of wrap-around supports for justice-involved parents and their children in Dorchester County, Maryland.
In 2016, staff members of the Health Department recognized the need for meaningful delinquency prevention and reentry supports that would strengthen family relationships during incarceration, nurture incarcerated fathers’ mental health through nonconventional trauma-informed practices, decrease recidivism among previously incarcerated parents, and address intergenerational incarceration, in rural areas of the county surrounding urban Cambridge, Maryland. “Intergenerational incarceration” refers to situations wherein family members from multiple generations come in contact with the justice system.
Although young people who have or have had an incarcerated parent can be deeply affected by their parents’ incarceration,1 their trajectories, outcomes, and potential for success are not uniform. Factors such as a child’s living environment during the period of separation from their parent as well as the nature and extent of parental involvement with the child while in jail or prison play a major role in improving youth outcomes.2 When the child and parent(s) both willingly consent, nurturing the parent-child relationship can be crucial in minimizing trauma and associated risks to the child.3
The goals of the Dorchester County Health Department’s Connecting for Success program are to minimize recidivism among previously incarcerated individuals, provide incarcerated parents with tools for post-release success, and address intergenerational incarceration by improving mental health and academic outcomes for young people who have or have had incarcerated parents in Dorchester County.
To achieve this goal, the program focuses on strengthening family relationships while the parent is incarcerated by providing the following:
- Mental health counseling for children in preschool through 5th grade who have an incarcerated parent
- Opportunities for parental involvement in their child’s academics (although important, this is a small piece of what CFS does)
- Community and jail-based educational groups
- Restorative yoga practices
- Goal planning
- Life skills classes
- Resources to promote successful reentry and family stabilization upon release
Researchers measure recidivism in numerous ways, but the term generally refers to the act of a person with a criminal record having additional encounters with the justice system, such as through additional arrests, convictions, and/or incarceration. Rates of recidivism are disproportionately high in Dorchester County, Maryland, when compared to the state average. In 2018, Maryland’s recidivism rate was approximately 37%, compared to Dorchester County’s 60-80% recidivism rate.4 Connecting for Success aims to reduce recidivism by keeping incarcerated parents actively involved in their own well-being and the well-being of their children both while incarcerated and upon release. Active involvement in a child’s life during incarceration (through avenues such as mail, calls, video chat, or in-person visits) has been shown to lower recidivism rates and improve outcomes for children of incarcerated parents.5
How is Success Measured?
The Connecting for Success program measures relative functioning and well-being of young people who have or have had an incarcerated parent using the Child Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale® (CAFAS®).6 Eighty-five percent of youth involved in the Connecting for Success program saw a decrease in their CAFAS® score of 10 points (which is an increase in functioning) after participating, suggesting that the program plays a vital role in improving overall functioning and reducing youth’s potential for future encounters with the justice system.
1 Zhao, Q., Cepeda, A., Chou, C., & Valdez, A. (2020). Maternal incarceration trajectories and the intergenerational transmission of imprisonment: A nationwide study. Children and Youth Services Review, 118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105461
2 Crain, C. M. (n.d.). Children of Offenders and the Cycle of Intergenerational Incarceration. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved from https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/documents/gokids_Crain.pdf
3 Foley, J., King, E., & Benner, C. (2020). Breaking the Cycle: Interrupting Generational Incarceration in Maine. Justice Policy, 35. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.usm.maine.edu/justice/35/
4 Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. (2021). Recidivism Report. Retrieved from https://hopeinbaltimore.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Available-data_report-of-hope-_-Martha-0722.pdf
5 Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D., Loper, A. B., & Shear, L. D. (2010). Children's contact with their incarcerated parents: research findings and recommendations. The American Psychologist, 65(6), 575–598. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020279
6 Hodges, K. (n.d.) Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale® (CAFAS®): Overview of Reliability and Validity. Functional Assessment Systems. Retrieved from https://www2.fasoutcomes.com/RadControls/Editor/FileManager/Document/FAS611_CAFAS%20Reliability%20and%20Validity%20Rev10.pdf