Breaking the Cycle for Incarcerated Fathers

Sunday, 26 July 2015: 8:50 AM

Cathrine Fowler, PhD, MEd, BEd, RN, RM
Faculty of Health, University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway NSW 2007, Australia
Angela Dawson, PhD, MA, BA (Hons.)
Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia
Chrsitine Rossiter, BA (Hons)
Faculty of Health, University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia
Tamara Power, PhD, RN
Faculty of Health, University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway, Australia
Deirdre M. Hyslop, MA, MEd, DipCorrMgmt
Strategic Policy and Planning, New South Wales Department of Justice, Sydney, Australia
Debra Jackson, PhD, RN
Faculty of Health Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford OX3 0BP, United Kingdom

Purpose: This Australian research study, Breaking the Cycle, aimed to develop new knowledge about incarcerated parents’ learning and support needs to enable a shift towards pro-social parenting practices.  A secondary aim is to inform correctional policy and practices to support the parenting and education needs of prisoners in New South Wales. 

Methods: An Appreciative Inquiry approach guided the research design, data collection and analysis (Cooperrider & Srivasta 1987), which involved quantitative and qualitative methods. These findings are drawn from a larger study of 128 incarcerated fathers and mothers who completed a number of questionnaires administered via an interview. The interviews used for this presentation were conducted with 64 incarcerated fathers. To provide a comparison, we interviewed 32 incarcerated men who had completed a parenting program and a further 32 men who had not. All the men were biological or step fathers of a child under 18 years of age.

Following ethical approval processes, demographic and Corrective Services data were gathered to provide a context and profile of the participants. This quantitative data provides a profile of the incarcerated fathers. Qualitative data were obtained from open-ended questions about parenting experiences and relationships with their children. Appreciative Inquiry enabled an exploration of parents’ experiences and aspirations and their situational strengths rather than focusing on deficits (Cooperrider & Srivasta 1987). The data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: The profile of the men interviewed included: aged between 19 and 52 years; were the father to 1-to-9 children; 93.9% were born in Australia; 21.2% had an incarcerated father, 2% had an incarcerated mother and 3% had both parents incarcerated; and 65.6% had their children visit them while incarcerated. Many of these men identified that they had limited experience of a fathering model that provided sensitive, appropriate care.  The men described their feelings of guilt and regret and their desire to be a better father.

Conclusion: Findings from this research will be used to assist in the design of parenting support and education programs for incarcerated parents to support and increase their contact or reunion with their children. 


Cooperrider D & Srivasta S, Eds.(1987) Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. Research in Organizational Change and Development. Greenwich, CT, JAI.

Dawson A, Jackson D & Nyamathi A (2012) Children of incarcerated parents: Insights to addressing a growing public health concern in Australia, Children and Youth Services Review, 34: 2433-2441.

Eddy J & Poehlmann J (2010) Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners. Washington, DC Urban Institute Press. 

Lee CB, Sansone FA, Swanson C, & Tatum KM (2012) Incarcerated fathers and parenting: importance of the relationship with their children. Social Work in Public Health27: 165-186.

Sheehan R (2010) Parents as prisoners: A study of parent-child relationships in the Children's Court of Victoria, Journal of Social Work 12(4):358-374.