Caring for Women in Prison: Health Education and Parenting Skill

Adorable small scottish kitten in wicker basket

A Bureau of Justice Report indicates that the majority of female prison inmates have minor children (62% of state and 56% of federal). More than half of these women were the primary financial support for their children.  While incarcerated, mothers depend on others to care for their children – the majority are cared for by grandparents (42%) followed by fathers (37%) and other relatives (23%). The remaining 19% are in foster care or with a friend.  This can be an additional life stress while in custody.

Health teaching and promotion is a major part of correctional nursing practice. According to the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, health teaching and health promotion include:

  •  Proving health teaching that addresses health lifestyles and risk reducing behaviors, developmental needs and preventive self-care
  • Using the teaching methods that are appropriate to the situation
  • Providing educational material in a variety of formats

Correctional nurses can assist mothers to better care for their children through health education and parenting skills training while they are separated. This can be a motivational time for mothers. Health education can focus on family health that will benefit both the patient and her children after re-entry into the community. Here are a few ideas for healthy living and parenting topics from the CDC:

  •  Basic first aid and safety
  • Child development
  • Check-ups and vaccinations
  • Healthy eating
  • Regular exercise

Information can be provided in a variety of methods including simple handouts, posters, individual teaching or group sessions. Family health teaching can be incorporated into the regular operations of a health unit. Five minute informational sessions can take place during other scheduled visits such as sick call or chronic care clinic.

Teach back/Show back is one method for increasing retention in patient education situations. This process evaluates comprehension by asking the patient to explain the material presented or demonstrate back the new skill. The nurse can then clarify and tailor further explanation to the remaining needs of the patient.

Parenting skills need not be limited to women’s services. Some male prisons have started healthy parenting programs in efforts to improve dysfunctional family situations among the offender population. One popular program is Parenting Inside Out. This program is available in some state and federal prisons.

Does your correctional setting provide parenting skills or family health education? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

To read more about the unique aspects of women’s health care in the correctional setting see Chapter 9 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The text can be ordered directly from the publisher and if you use Promo Code AF1209 the price is discounted by $15 and shipping is free.

Photo Credit: © Oksana Kuzmina –

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