“Dennis” Overcomes Addiction and Incarceration to Become a Better Father

January 7, 2019
Recent graduates of the Strength in Families program

Recent graduates of the Strength in Families program

*Names have been changed to protect the participant’s anonymity*

A year is not a very long time to change your life.

Dennis started smoking and doing drugs when he was younger than 10. He began using harder drugs in 6th grade. His father was in prison during most of his childhood, leaving just his mother to raise him as best she could.

Last January, Dennis found himself, once again, in county jail and still addicted to the drugs which had already almost ruined his life. He was moved from jail to state prison last February.

Dennis has a daughter in elementary school who is being raised by his mother. He also has a son to whom he has lost his parental rights. After going to prison, Dennis decided he wanted to do everything he could to become a better father. He volunteered to enroll in the “Strength in Families” (SIF) program provided by the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC).

Strength in Families is a ReFORM program funded by the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Family Assistance—a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The SIF program targets three key areas for reentering fathers: healthy relationships, positive parenting, and economic stability.

Partnerships are critical to successful reentry after prison. This program uses partnerships between the Washington Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) and the Alternative Solutions Program to remove barriers and solve child support issues.

Dennis began with Walking the Line, a course led by SIF Instructor JC Rescorla. The class taught how to develop healthy relationships with partners and co-parents. He also finished the job readiness course “Job Seeking Skills.” This course is supported by a partnership with the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Dennis recently graduated from Parenting Inside Out Visit disclaimer page , a 60-hour class for imprisoned parents. He will soon earn his GED. Dennis said that the SIF classes have helped him realize that he can be a good dad. The support and structure of the program gave him the basic tools that will help him stay focused and sober. He has been infraction-free since joining the program.

Dennis’s case manager, Laura Wilson, referred him to work with Brian Mark at Alternative Solutions, and Maureen Anglin. Anglin was the Department of Child Support officer first assigned to Dennis’s child support cases. She had already begun a change of the child support order, to ensure it was set at the minimum amount for a parent in prison. She also began a process to reduce or remove all the debt Dennis owed to DSHS for the time his children were on public assistance and in foster care.

Within two weeks of the referral from DOC, Dennis and the mother of his son agreed to a “zero-dollar” child support order. Also, all of his back child support owed to DSHS, totaling more than $20,000, was written off by a board decision. This means that when he is released from prison, Dennis will have no debt and no ongoing child support duty. He can focus on his sobriety, employment and fatherhood.