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A new program led by Indiana University School of Medicine faculty will provide more support for mothers and babies in the Indiana Women’s Prison, thanks to a new $468,000 grant from the Early Years Initiative from Early Learning Indiana.

IU School of Medicine receives $468,000 grant to support incarcerated women and their children

close up photo of a mother's and baby's hands

INDIANAPOLIS—A new program led by Indiana University School of Medicine faculty will provide more support for mothers and babies in the Indiana Women’s Prison, thanks to a new $468,000 grant from the Early Years Initiative from Early Learning Indiana.

The Promises of Parenting Program is a maternal attachment and infant education program developed for mother-baby pairs residing in the Leath Unit Nursery in the prison. The program will provide targeted parenting education and support, opportunities for mothers and infants to bond and spend uninterrupted time together and foundational play materials. It will also provide education, training and support to the service providers in the Leath Unit.

“Pregnant and parenting women experiencing incarceration require specialized support, health education and parenting information to improve parenting outcomes, foster healthy child development and decrease recidivism,” said Jack Turman, PhD, principal investigator of the project. “Infants taken from their incarcerated mother are at high risk of toxic stress, which can alter a child’s neurochemistry and anatomy, inhibiting healthy growth and development. Throughout their lifetime, these children are also at an increased risk of experiencing poverty, multiple home and school displacements and even their own incarceration as adolescents and adults.”

The Early Years Initiative is a $50 million competitive grant program focused on enhancing the learning and development of infants and toddlers in Indiana communities. It places special emphasis on serving families in low-income households. Support for this initiative comes from Lilly Endowment Inc. IU is one of 86 chosen to receive a grant from the group.

In the program, each mother will learn to describe the qualities of respectful relationships, demonstrate the importance of supporting a child’s social-emotional development through healthy attachment, demonstrate confidence in understanding and meeting their child’s needs, and differentiate between parental and child emotions and the variables that impact them. The pilot program has already served 18 mother/baby pairs. With this new three-year grant, they hope to serve another 24 pairs per year for three years.

Class curricula will utilize emergent learning, the premise that individuals are most successful at learning when curriculum accounts for their interests, strengths, needs and realities.

“This type of adaptable, participant-led learning is critical to the successful learning of mothers incarcerated in the unit,” Turman said. “The curriculum is designed to meet our goals and learning objectives and is delivered by certified instructors who have years of experience in infant and toddler education and care programs. Their teaching of mothers always includes the babies and utilizes skill-based learning and practice in a variety of topics, including respect, emotional regulation, trauma responses, empathy, discipline, authenticity, bathing, diapering, feeding, playing, sleeping and self-care for mother.”

The Promises of Parenting Program will also promote sustainability by building the knowledge, skill and capacity of service providers within the Leath Unit. Correctional staff members will sit in and observe the set of class sessions receive the same handouts and materials provided to the women.

Mothers in the program who have completed a class can repeat the same class as many times as desired until they are released from the unit.

“Repetition has proved itself to be a powerful teaching and learning tool for individuals who have experienced trauma. It will also enable and empower mothers who have already been through the class to serve as in-unit mentors in subsequent classes,” Turman said. “We have already seen relationships restored between the mothers and their older children as they work to apply the principles we teach them to the relationships with older children, and we look forward to seeing how these mothers share and disseminate the information they learn from the experience to those in their communities when they are released from prison.”

About IU School of Medicine

IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.