CSUSB project helps incarcerated mothers and their children


When two Cal State San Bernardino psychology professors received a $100,000 grant in 2010 to create a program to help educate incarcerated mothers to reunite with their young children upon their release, they hoped it would make a positive impact on the women’s rehabilitation efforts to return to society.

Through the Maternal Intervention Project, CSUSB professors Faith McClure and Laura Kamptner set out to help incarcerated mothers develop an emotionally close bond with their children to help prevent the next generation from repeating the same cycle of incarceration.Mother Holding Child's Hand

“It’s exciting when a participant finally has that ‘aha’ moment,” Kamptner says. “One mother actually said, ‘I never realized it before, but parenting is about the children’s needs, isn’t it?’ Another parent said, ‘It made me hopeful about reuniting with my kids and repairing the damage.’”

While most parenting programs focus on behavioral change, McClure and Kamptner sought to create an attitude shift through the use of an attachment-based model for parenting instead of punishment.

“The behavioral model works well until the parents experience high emotional distress,” said Kamptner. “However, without a change in attitude toward parenting, and until the parents can have empathy for their children, the parents have difficulty being consistent and responding appropriately during emotional distress.”

“This is precisely when these positive parenting skills are needed,” explains McClure. “Our parenting program provides empathy for the parents in how they were raised and then helps them develop empathy for raising their own children.”

The project studied the needs of more than 300 incarcerated mothers at Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore, providing parent education classes and joint therapy to make for an easier transition back into their homes after release from jail.

The professors’ research indicates that upon completion of the program, participants felt more competent as parents, showed interest and more involvement with their children, and were much more capable of demonstrating the positive parenting skills they learned.

“These results are highly promising, because research shows that strengthening families, especially parent/child attachment, is critical in facilitating children’s psychological well-being, successful peer relationships and academic endeavors,” says McClure.

“More importantly, because incarceration is often a multigenerational problem, family stability protects against intergenerational transmission of incarceration,” says Kamptner.

“By addressing the needs of incarcerated mothers and their children,” says Robert Ricco, professor and chair of the CSUSB psychology department, “Drs. Kamptner and McClure are breaking fresh ground in our efforts to emphasize rehabilitation in the county jail system and to reduce recidivism.”

“Along with their dedicated students, these faculty are making a difference in the lives of present and future generations,” says Ricco. “Enabling incarcerated mothers to establish and maintain rewarding relationships with their children and providing them with the skills to be effective parents, forms the basis for a successful transition back to society.”

In partnership with CSUSB’s Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, Community University Partnerships and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department INROADS program, the Children’s Fund and the First 5 program, the researchers conducted psychotherapeutic parenting classes in the county jail, focusing on the influence of attachment, family stability and positive parenting.

According to the researchers, it is a holistic approach to being in relationships, one that teaches the inmates to learn from their mistakes rather than repeat inappropriate behaviors.

The professors and their CSUSB student researchers have presented their findings at a number of academic conferences and are currently writing some of the data for publication, including a manual that describes the specialized parenting approach.

For more information about the Maternal Intervention Project, contact either professor Faith McClure at (909) 537-5598 or professor Laura Kamptner at (909) 537-5582. Also, visit the Maternal Intervention Project website.

For more information about Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.