In 2017, a partnership formed that would help change the lives of many incarcerated men across Canada. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), the Canadian Families and Corrections Network (CFCN), and the Movember Foundation have collaborated to help incarcerated Dads come back to their families and reintegrate successfully into the community.
A year before this partnership was formed, incarcerated men had been asking the CFCN for help in regards to resources and parenting skills, which is why in 2015 they applied for funding with the Movember Foundation. On September 1, 2017, Movember announced the CFCN Dad HERO Project as one of 13 projects in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada to be part of the Social Innovators Challenge.
In September of 2018, the program launched at five CSC institutions: Dorchester Penitentiary (NB), Archambault Institution (QC), Collins Bay Institution (ON), Saskatchewan Penitentiary (SK), and Pacific Institution (BC).
The name of the project says it all: Dad HERO: Helping Everyone Realize Opportunities. The Dad HERO project is designed to facilitate connections with families and children, to build resiliency for the journey of incarceration and reintegration, and to help decrease the risk of reoffending. The program has also been acknowledged as a best practice by Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator.
We spoke to Louise Leonardi, who has been the Executive Director of the CFCN for seven years now. Her passion and involvement in the program have contributed to its success, which has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, their families, CSC staff, and the public. She mentioned that, “A lot of people don't think about men inside prisons as a hero. In fact, when we told the men the name of the program, some of them said, ‘that doesn’t resonate with me, I don't really feel like a hero to my kids. But I want my children to look up to me, to think that I have value and worth, that I have information to give them, and can be a good parent that is aspiring to be a hero.”
Participants embark on an eight-week journey that involves parenting courses, which run weekly within the institution. From the parenting course, participants move on to the Prison Dad Group. These dad groups are designed to provide new information that enables members to continue to support one another as parents.
As Louise highlights, “this is a very positive thing inside a prison as you can imagine. You have something to bond over that is not about their crime, not about their criminogenic factors, but something positive to speak to other men about.”
These groups are found within institutions and out in the community so that dads who have been incarcerated federally or provincially have access. “The whole idea is to keep them connected to build resiliency. So whether they're connecting with each other about parenting, or they're connecting with their families, that's what we want.”
Feedback from men participating in the program has shown the tremendous progress and success of the project. Men have reported that they are now able to dedicate themselves to re-establishing a relationship with their children, to reach out to their children without shame, to express their thoughts and joy of being a father, to understand how to deal with their children in the right way, and simply getting out there and being there for their children. Feedback from program facilitators further confirmed this sentiment, noting that as participants shared their stories, it made them feel closer to one another and helped them think like a dad.
“We all want the same things for these men. We want them to come out of prison, to reoffend less, to be with their families, to start a pro-social and productive life, and to move into society in a well-balanced way. Families want their dads to come back”, said Louise.
There is a lot to say about the work that is being done, namely the changes and improvements in mental health. Men who have participated in the program have shown an increase in overall life satisfaction.
Research conducted by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact in Waterloo, Ontario for the Movember Foundation also pointed to an increase of self-awareness and reflection on life choices from participants, thanks to seeking support from other participants regarding their children and families.
Movember’s evaluation of the program confirms that ‘people who are satisfied with their relationships and social connections are more likely to experience good mental health and wellbeing in general, and the cultivation of healthy close relationships can increase individual resilience and act as a protective factor against suicide’.
“CFCN has done all they have promised to do with this project and we were both pleased and encouraged to see this work recognized as a best practice by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. The incarcerated fathers in our institutions have responded to the project with great success and we continue to hear positive feedback from our staff as well,” shared Bill Rasmus, Director of the Reintegration Services Division at CSC.
Moving forward with the program in years to come, Louise expressed that CFCN continues to search for funding to enhance the program and build their reach to include more federal correctional institutions, halfway houses, and provincial institutions.
Check out the latest developments on the Dad HERO program (English only)