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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Study of the Mother-Child Program

Part Four: Some Suggestions for Making the Program More Effective

A. Conclusion
B. Collaboration Between Agencies


A. Conclusion

The reader will remember that this review of literature was also intended to answer more specific questions. The first question concerns the type of residency to select (full-time or part-time residency). The second question deals with the risks for the child of growing up in an FSW facility, and the means to be proposed to minimize negative impact. To answer these questions, we have tried to go beyond the depiction of the deficits of social life in a correctional facility. We wish to place other concepts at the centre of our discussion.

In the first place, we have seen that today, the mother-child attachment and the impact of that relationship on the psychosocial development of the child are regarded as being of great importance. The concept of stage of development is also at the centre of current discussions. For Cloutier and Renaud (1990), for example, the concept of stage is an invaluable tool for asking questions because it introduces a chronology of acquisitions made by the child. From this perspective, early childhood and the preschool period have been described as "critical" periods for the child, and the authors therefore agree that the stability and continuity of a significant figure are what enable the child to invest in the external world. From another viewpoint, maintaining the child in environments "at risk" with appropriate support measures today seems a valid solution in prevention settings where the physical safety of the child is not threatened (Durand et al (1989)). Finally, we have discovered – and the reader may refer in this regard to the work done by the Rosalie Jetté Centre – that the many physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs interfere with the mother-child relationship. In other words, the quality and stability of the mother-child relationship appears to depend on the way in which the mother and child function and on their "life situation", and it is only through a detailed analysis of these "situations" that it is possible to identify the service delivery modes that are best suited to their needs (type of residency, for example). Because of the complexity of living situations experienced by mothers and children, each mother-child dyad is a unique case. It is thus necessary to evaluate all cases of registration/admission systematically, using recognized assessment tools.

In short, one cannot make assumptions in advance about the appropriateness of one type of accommodation as compared to another, or about the circumstances in which one is preferable to another. Too many factors may interfere with a decision. On the other hand, according to Andrée Fontaine, an educational psychologist at the Rosalie Jetté Centre, the length of the mother’s imprisonment, the age of the child, the child’s placement history, and the existence of serious behaviour problems such as substance abuse, both in the child and in the mother, are important factors that must be weighed in determining the most appropriate form of residency. In some cases, where the complexity and the seriousness of the situation require, occasional stays or regular visits by the child may become the only preventive measures that can be considered in order to maintain the mother-child relationship.

In defining a suitable service plan, the committee responsible for the registration/admission of a mother-child dyad should be guided by the following principles:

Voluntary participation by the mother.

Assessment of the mother’s ability to parent.

• For making this assessment, Magura et Moses (1986) have provided a reliable, valid instrument, the "Child Well-Being Scales". This instrument has been adapted by Laurendeau (1989) and Foucault (1992) in different contexts.

Assessment of the mother-child attachment.

• Q-SORT, produced by Peterson and Moran (1990), is a valid, reliable instrument for assessing maternal behaviour.

Study of the mother’s social network and support network (family or other).

• ASSIS, by Barrera (Arizona Social Support), is a reliable, valid instrument for this purpose. This instrument has been translated and adopted by Lepage (1984).

Account of the life of the child and an assessment of the child’s cognitive, physical, emotional and social capacities.

Biological, psychological and social assessment of the mother’s situation.

• The Rosalie Jetté Centre has valid, suitable tools for this purpose.

Consent of the Director of Youth Protection or of the Youth Court.

Supervised assessment of the mother-child dyad, the duration of which may vary between two and three months.

The objective of the supervised evaluation of the dyad is to allow the child to become gradually familiar correctional services environment, and to maintain the mother-child relationship. During this period, the child should be living outside the facility. This activity could take place within the larger framework of the facility’s child care centre, with educators specially trained for this purpose. If the mother can leave the facility, the assessment could be done in a day centre. In this type of program, the major activities offered are: supervised visits of the mother-child dyad, activities to develop parenting skills, individual follow-up, activities developed in a context of supporting the improvement of the mother-child relationship. This type of activity allows screening and prevention of cases of abuse and neglect.

When the registration/admission process is completed, the committee in charge of that process will be able to decide on the type of residency that would be best, and to draw up a personalized service plan reflecting the specific problems targeted by the assessment process. This personalized service plan should fit into the broader framework of the programs and services offered to the whole group of federally sentenced women.


At this stage, it may be assumed that the majority of mothers will be able to face up to their parental role and to develop harmonious emotional ties with their child, regardless of the type of residency. Certain situations peculiar to the prison environment may, however, cause serious problems for the mother. As is the case in the community, some mothers will succeed in developing their skills only with external help (C.R.J. (1992)). The risk factors that are part of the etiology of neglect are present in this environment in a more acute form (stress, poor social support, tolerance of violence, many social, emotional and cognitive needs, low educational level, etc.). Furthermore, when mothers have, in particular, been made aware of the need to offer high-quality complementary identification models, the surrounding environment may generate stress, causing problems of adaptation for the mothers, and consequently for their children.

The possibility of having the mothers and children all lodged together in one or two houses, rather than being scattered through the whole facility, seems to us to be one of the solutions that could be implemented in order to minimize the negative effects.

Furthermore, like the majority of mothers living in the community, mothers in the FSW population will have to rely upon a significant social support network (family or other) in order to improve their parenting skills, increase their psychological well-being, acquire the knowledge they need to look after their child, and adapt to their situation. As we have noted above, the mothers will have a better chance of adapting more easily if they can rely upon a support network in four specific areas:

• Acquiring the knowledge and skills required to look after a child.

• Validation of the mother’s way of acting with her child.

• Sharing the various emotions they experience, which are sometimes intense and unexpected.

• Access to human and material resources corresponding to their personal situation.(Lepage et Guay (1985)).

Social isolation and ineffective support from the social network, have been associated with a whole set of problems, including emotional neglect of the child. One of the actions that CSC could take to ensure that mothers can rely on a significant support network, and to foster the social integration of the mother and her child, would be to work in a complementary way with non-professional workers who have received training in working with mothers at risk. The actions of these workers can be incorporated into the activities of everyday life, in the form of accompaniment to the doctor, the hospital, a restaurant, a swimming pool or a library. The workers can accompany the mothers in their dealings with relatives, friends, etc.

For reference purposes, let us mention "La fondation de la visite" (the visiting foundation), which has been in existence for seven years. In this program, non-professional workers involved in accompaniment and visiting activities have been trained to invigorate the mother’s support network and to develop the mother’s ability to parent.

These actions would enable clients and CSC to achieve the following:


To choose and to develop positive relationships with other mothers in their immediate environment, with relatives, professionals, members of the community network and others.


To carry out ongoing needs assessments, to make the necessary adjustments, and to review the service plan on a regular basis.

Assessment and training

Even today, we have few studies on institutional risk factors. As was mentioned in the report of the youth task force, "Un Québec fou de ses enfants" (1991), the existing studies "have little to say about the characteristics of living environments, other than the family, that could add to the development risks for children." Consequently, according to the authors of the report, considerable importance should be attached to evaluating the implementation of programs and impacts, and to acquiring competent staff. The evaluative and training component has been deemed essential to the success of a program. The evaluation also obliges the developers to think seriously about objectives, means and criteria. Training and supervision do indeed ensure the stability of the staff that is hired. The authors also note: "The present tendency to acquire staff solely on the basis of the criterion that they are available and cheap should be seriously reviewed." The individuals involved in intervention with families must have the necessary knowledge and skills. Evaluation and training of competent staff are major factors in ensuring the success of a program (Bouchard et al. (1991)).

In this regard, the Rosalie Jetté Centre is an essential resource for CSC in the field of training and supervision.

Within the context of potential collaboration between agencies, the Rosalie Jetté Centre has targeted three possibilities for collaboration with CSC. We present them here for reference purposes.


B. Collaboration Between Agencies

Three possibilities

1. Development of a program and clinical consultation

This possibility proposes that a person from mother and child services be involved in the development of a program adapted to the situation, while taking into account the expertise developed with the clientele.

Context of collaboration:

• clinical consultations through a few meetings (3 ?)

• regular meetings to develop a program (between 3 and 6 months).

2. Implementation and clinical supervision

This possibility complements the first, but remains optional. A worker from mother and child services (probably the same person) would supervise the implementation of the program, train staff in accordance with the objectives of the program, and offer clinical supervision to the person in charge of the project.

Context of collaboration:

• training of clinical staff (to be determined).

3. Carrying out of clinical activities

Through a contractual agreement, an educator would be loaned for the concrete, day-to-day carrying out of the clinical activities. This loan of an educator would have to be determined according to need, on the basis of an experimental project.

The proposed possibilities could be implemented independently or on a complementary basis, on the basis of previously identified needs.