Featured Mentoring Skill: August  2009

Providing a base of knowledge and awareness specifically about children and families of incarcerated parents.

“Training that is specifically focused on the needs and concerns of children and families of the incarcerated, empower our staff to serve the targeted population with increased competence, confidence, and sensitivity. The values that are enforced through these specialized trainings, serve to create relationships with families that foster trust, safety, and mutual respect.” ~ Cynthia L. Graham, Project Director of New York’s Children of Promise, Big Brothers Big Sisters of U.C.

Consider This: Elements of Effective Training for Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parent Programs. By Jennifer Eugene

  • Separate orientation from training-prospective mentors need to hear about agency policies and other general orientation facts and rules but much of this can be done at the interview , by e-mail and in a social gatherings or meet and greets  of mentors, mentees and caregivers/parents. This frees the actual training time for focusing on the important elements of understanding children of incarcerated parents and their families.
  • Schedule repeat trainings and vary days of the week-to accommodate the many and varied schedules of prospective and active mentors, trainings should be scheduled throughout the year on week nights and weekends. An effective pre-service training can be planned for a 3-4 hour time frame.
  • Remember that training is also screening- activities that ask prospective mentors to be self reflective, share perspectives about incarcerated parents and role play handling talking about the incarcerated parent with the child can really help staff to assess the mentors’ needs for support in the relationship In some cases, training activities designed for Mentoring Children of the Incarcerated  can reveal attitudes, judgments or  biases that might interfere with the trust so necessary to the mentoring relationship. Staff should take care, not to be so hungry for mentors( especially men!) that they ignore signs that a mentor may be  inappropriate for this population.
  • Plan on-going training activities- One pre-service training on children and families of the incarcerated will not be enough to equip mentors with the tools they will need over the course of the relationship. Monthly meetings, gatherings or activities for mentors or for mentors and mentees can also provide a forum for additional training. Try a Q and A panel of other mentors who have a good history mentoring children of the incarcerated, or of formerly incarcerated parents, caregivers or adult children of the incarcerated. Another idea is involve other community agencies such as Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, programs that serve parents returning from prison, agencies that provide other services to children of the incarcerated such as transportation to  or visitation with the incarcerate parents or programs that provide parenting programs in prisons are invaluable as resources for your  mentor trainings.
  • Always use evaluation forms- mentors can really help you to continually evaluate your trainings, not only right after a  training, but also throughout the course of the relationship. Periodically sending e-mails or notes asking mentors to share something from the training that they find themselves using over and over; or to suggest something that they would like to know more about ; or to suggest resources for information on children of the incarcerated that they may have discovered.
  • Consider one of  FCN’s Mentoring Children of Prisoners trainings.  These trainings are   insightful, impactful and constructive. They are interactive trainings provided  in person or through conference calls or  webinars.  Throughout my professional career, I’ve been fortunate enough to utilize Ann Adalist-Estrin and the FCN trainings as a resource in building the Mentoring Children of Promise program, working with the incarcerated and their families, and training volunteers.[/su_spoiler]

Jennifer Eugene is the Program Manager for Volunteers of America Western Washington’s Mentoring Children of Promise Program.  Since 2003, Jennifer has been working with children and families of the Incarcerated through mentoring, parenting classes, and a literacy program.