The Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant for the Family Reintegration and Reentry Pilot Program works to impact the repeating cycle of drug abuse and dependence in Southwest Virginia. This project targets the counties of Tazewell, Russell, and Buchanan, which have proportionally higher drug rates per capita than Virginia’s high-density metro areas. These counties also have high per capita death rates of overdoses. Services for drug abusers and their families are already stretched to the limits in these areas. Without adequate support upon their release, drug offenders from these areas are very likely to recidivate.
Together with representatives from the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Cumberland Mountain Community Service Board, and researchers at Virginia Tech, our lab is working to positively impact not only those immediately involved in this drug abuse epidemic, but the public safety and well being of all citizens living in the tri-county rural southwest Virginia target area. The Family Reintegration & Reentry Pilot Program is designed to treat these returning drug-abusing mothers, support the children of these incarcerated mothers with assessment of their needs and follow-up treatment as indicated, and reintegrate children and family members with the offender wherever that is the best and healthy outcome for all.
As part of this pilot program, our lab teaches the parenting curriculum Parenting from the Inside: Making the Mother Child Connection (PFI, Loper et al., 2005; Loper, in press) at participating correctional facilities. This curriculum employs the theoretical underpinnings of cognitive-behavioral therapy and proceeds pedagogically from basic cognitive-behavioral skills (e.g., managing physical reactions to stress, recognizing and challenging unrealistic beliefs) to specific skill sets (effective listening, developmentally appropriate communication) to generalization of skills over multiple situations (phone calls, visits, letters), to application of previously learned skills in difficult situations (collaborating with caregivers, discussing offense and drug history with children, communicating with children who are exhibiting behavioral problems).
Video visitation, offered as an integral part of the Parenting on the Inside Curriculum, affords a valuable opportunity for better training of specific skills. The curriculum provides essential instruction regarding dealing with the emotional reactivity and distress that can often color family interactions in this context. Members of our lab help to prepare participating mothers for video visits with their families, and provide feedback for the mothers after the visit has ended. This particular feature of the project allows for monitored practice of the skills taught in the parenting curriculum.