KNOXVILLE— A unique parenting program run by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is helping incarcerated fathers rebuild their lives and reconnect with their children after their release.
UT’s Social Work Office of Research and Public Service offers the Tennessee Partnership for Ongoing Parenting Support, which helps inmates understand their rights and responsibilities as a parent while in prison.
The program has counseled 1,190 fathers since 2009.
“We tell them that their role as a father is an important one and we want to help them become involved in their child’s life, as long as it’s in the best interest of the child,” said Monica Roush, program coordinator. “Our goal is to assist them in knowing what their rights and responsibilities are as a parent, understanding court orders, paying child support and offering social services upon their release from prison.”
“We’re connecting fathers re-entering their local community with resources and family advocacy services, helping them maintain employment once they have re-entered the community and establishing steady and long-term child support payments,” said Roush. “In fact, the first two years of the program generated an additional $74,587 in child support payments.”
Each month, 30 to 40 inmates participate in a three-day class and then receive individual follow-up services to help them with intake and child support questions.
“One of the most important benefits for children is knowing that they have a father who wants to be in their life,” said Martha Deaton, program coordinator. “Our goal is to encourage fathers to do everything they can to let their children know they care for and are committed to them.”
One of Deaton’s favorite success stories involves a program participant who wanted to be a fitness trainer. He was released from prison two years ago and now serves as the general manager of an area health club.
“He’s continued to take care of his children and reunited with his wife as well,” said Deaton. “I ran into them recently at dinner on Mother’s Day, and he came over to the table and thanked me in front of my family. My son had tears in his eyes and said, ‘That must make your job worth everything!’ Indeed, it does.”
Another program participant received hope that he could turn his life around and be a positive influence on his daughter.
“Three months after leaving prison, he called and told us he had a job, an apartment and was current on his child support,” said Deaton. “But he said his girlfriend decided to walk out on their daughter and he didn’t know what to do. We explained his options and he went to juvenile court the next day to get emergency custody. He still has his daughter and is doing well.”
Deaton and Roush say many program participants have shared their feelings of regret and how much they miss tucking their child in at night.
“Time and again these fathers tell us how the program helped them to regain their honor and responsibility as a parent,” said Roush. “We remind them that they are more than a paycheck and that is very important.”
Although the program is available only for inmates at Morgan County Prison, Deaton and Roush hope to expand it to reach men and women regionally, statewide and eventually across the nation.
“We firmly believe this program is helping to break the cycle of children of incarcerated parents entering prison themselves,” said Roush.
TPOPS was created through federal grant funding in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
For more information, visit https://www.sworps.tennessee.edu/html/child-support.html.
Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Tennessee Partnership for Ongoing Parenting Support (TPOPS) was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.