Trauma-Informed Approaches for Programs Serving Fathers in Re-Entry: A Review of the Literature and Environmental Scan

September 17, 2018
Strengthening Families, Healthy Marriage & Responsible Fatherhood
Parents and Children Together (PACT) Evaluation, 2011-2020 | Learn more about this project
Trauma-Informed Approaches for Programs Serving Fathers in Re-Entry: A Review of the Literature and Environmental Scan Cover
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  • Published 2018


Many responsible fatherhood program participants have incarceration histories (Dion et al., 2018). Evidence is growing that many men with incarceration histories have experienced trauma early in life, and that experiencing trauma may complicate their efforts to reconnect with and support their families after incarceration. This report explores trauma in the reentry population and how responsible fatherhood programs, including those funded by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) in the Administration for Children and Families, can take a trauma-informed approach to the services they offer.

OFA provided support for fathers in 2015 through two funding streams that are part of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) discretionary grant program. OFA awarded grants to community-based organizations for services specifically tailored to the needs of fathers in the process of transitioning from incarceration to their families and communities, known as the Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Re-entry and Mobility (ReFORM) programs. OFA also awarded grants for programs that serve fathers without regard to incarceration status or history, known as the New Pathways for Fathers and Families (NPFF) programs, or more generally responsible fatherhood programs.

Programs in both funding streams tend to focus on low-income fathers, and are required to offer services to promote responsible parenting, economic stability, and healthy marriage and relationship skills. Legislative authorization for HMRF programs was provided by the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.

Research Questions

  1. 1 What does the research literature suggest are the potential consequences of trauma for fathers’ parenting, economic stability, and relationships?
  2. 2 What are the elements of a trauma-informed approach, and what can we learn from programs that are implementing such an approach with fathers returning from incarceration?
  3. 3 What evidence-based trauma-specific services are available to fathers recently released from incarceration, and to what extent are they appropriate for men returning to the community after incarceration?


The purpose of this report is to document what is known about trauma among fathers returning to the community after incarceration, how fatherhood programs can foster healing and avoid exacerbating or re-traumatizing participants, and resources that may be available to help fatherhood programs become trauma-informed.

Key Findings and Highlights

Although more systematic research is needed, the literature suggests that trauma is common in low-income fathers with incarceration histories. Unless addressed, trauma may complicate the efforts of responsible fatherhood programs to help men achieve positive outcomes.

Human services programs, including those serving re-entering fathers, can implement trauma-informed care. Key steps in taking a trauma-informed approach to fatherhood program services include:

  • Make a systemic commitment to take a trauma-informed approach throughout the entire organization’s policies, procedures, and settings
  • Train all staff (including non-clinical staff ) in the signs of trauma and how to appropriately respond to them
  • Screen all program participants for signs of trauma
  • Refer fathers in need of clinical treatment to gender and culturally appropriate services


This report is based on a review of the literature on trauma among incarcerated men, an environmental scan to identify programs that address trauma among fathers, and discussions with a subset of programs and key experts in the field of trauma-informed care.


Dion, Robin, Lareina LaFlair, Melissa Azur, Michaella Morzuch, and Angela D’Angelo. (2018). Trauma-Informed Approaches for Programs Serving Fathers in Re-Entry: A Review of the Literature and Environmental Scan. OPRE Report Number 2018-69. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Trauma-informed approaches
focus on the ways in which an organization reflects its understanding of trauma and responds by applying trauma-informed principles throughout all levels of its standard services and operations—from how staff interact with participants during service delivery to written policy and leadership support.
Trauma-specific services
are interventions to address trauma symptoms, such as clinical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Such interventions can be group-based or individual-based. Often, but not always, they require delivery by a mental health professional.
Trauma-informed system of care
is considered an umbrella term that may encompass a trauma-informed approach, trauma-specific services, or both.
Last Reviewed: December 18, 2018