Strengthening Incarcerated Families.

"What if we could reduce the risk of future incarceration, child abuse and neglect among the children of incarcerated parents?"

Photo of Shirley Cochran
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Motherly Intercession originated as a grass roots organization in Flint in 1999. My husband and I were moved by a story on the news, and wanted to identify one family to support at Christmas. I went into the Genesee County Jail in search of one mother who would not be home with her children at Christmas. The jail allowed me to distribute an application among the incarcerated mothers and two weeks later we received requests for support from twenty three incarcerated mothers which represented fifty eight children throughout Genesee County. Unable to select one family, my husband and I solicited assistance from thirteen friends and family members who helped to raise enough funds to support all of the families that year. That year was the start of Motherly Intercession’s efforts to strengthen families affected by incarceration. Upon completion of the service project the group began to search for service providing agencies in the community to refer the families to for additional services. We quickly learned there were no agencies in Genesee County that specifically focused on this population and realized the community had an enormous gap in service for incarcerated families, and particularly the children affected. Troubled by the magnitude of the problems the young innocent children were facing we changed our exclusive focus to the Children of Incarcerated Parents (CIP’S): Children who have a parent (Mother or Father) who is currently or was previously incarcerated.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Black / Afro American


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Flint Michigan.

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Flint, Michigan, home of the current "Poisonous Water Crisis".

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The children of incarcerated parents and their alternate caregivers, are a hidden societal demographic who despite multiple areas of vulnerability, are underserved and are rarely the focus of prevention efforts. Their unique needs go unmet due to a lack of services designed specifically for them. Many of the challenges and barriers the children face daily are attributed to the deep rooted negative social stigma of incarceration that exist in our society. Many of the challenges that the caregivers or parents face requires a higher level of support to resolve the problem at a level that will be helpful to the children they are caring for. They are in need of someone who can help them to navigate the system of supports that are available and find solutions for the problems that are the root cause of their stress. Doing so, helps to create a home environment of safety for the children.

It is critical for the children, parents and alternate caregivers to have a place to go that can help them surmount their challenges and barriers in a non-judgmental environment.  The need for service delivery and preventive interventions for the children with a focus on kinship care is essential for the children, their families, and our community. Failure to do so is simply nurturing the next generation of incarcerated parents!

Our empirically validated Strengthening Incarcerated Families (SIF) program derived from a two year research project in collaboration with the U of M Ann Arbor School of Public Health. We have shown through research that our program works (Miller et al. 2013 “Strengthening Incarcerated Families, Evaluating a pilot program for children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers, Family Relations; Miller et al 2014 “Parenting While Incarcerated: Tailoring the Strengthening Families program for use with jailed mothers”

SIF is designed to develop a comprehensive support system for children of incarcerated parents (CIP’s), their caregivers outside of the jail, and their parents inside of the jail. These services include in jail setting, parent child visitation,  parenting classes and Mom 2 Mom Mentoring.

Through our Strengthening Incarcerated Family Resource Center our Social Worker helps to connect the families with both, concrete and social support (i.e. State of Mich.- MI Bridges program - (food stamps, Medicaid, emergency and cash assistance, and childcare) healthcare coverage through the Genesee Healthcare Plan, and other community resources that are available to help the incarcerated families respond to the Flint water crisis and other needs. 

Outside of the jail, through our Reading And Counting to Success (RACS) program we provide the children academic support (homework assistance, tutoring in reading, math, and computer technology, positive guidance, life skills training, transportation, and a healthy, nutritional dinner meal.  Each child enrolled into this program will have a unique set of needs that goes beyond simply providing them with literacy and math instruction. Although it is difficult to identify the efforts needed beyond the structure of our program, we are willing to go the extra mile to make a positive impact in their lives. We do so because we believe the work that Motherly Intercession does today will have both short and long term positive impact on these children’s lives tomorrow and the quality of life in our community.

At the time of enrollment, many of our students are reading below grade level. To further complicate the situation, in 2013 our Protective Factor Survey ( data indicated less than 30% of the children’s parents/caregivers felt they had the academic skill sets needed to provide the children the academic support they needed. Clearly these children receive less academic support in learning in the home.

Several of our students are struggling with many layers of grief, emotional anxiety, and other challenges which impede their ability to RECEIVE, COMPREHEND, RETAIN and RESPOND to the academic support they receive. Helping a child to navigate those challenges is a slow, timely process, yet necessary for success.

Research says one in five of these children have a diagnosable emotional or behavioral disorder, up to one in ten may suffer from a serious emotional disturbance, and as high as 70% of them do not receive the mental health services they need because they are not easily identified.

The children are taught “what goes on in the home stays in the home”. The code of secrecy in the family unit leaves them with no source of emotional support to help them cope with their fears and anxiety. In those cases we refer them to the Mott Children’s Health Center for emotional behavioral assessments and treatment if needed.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Quote from the first RACS program student to graduate from high school after her mother's sudden death. See article: “I vividly remember what a challenge it was. My brother and I were split up and placed into the foster care system. It was during this difficult time that Ms. Cochran really stepped up to mentor and help me move forward.” With an absent father and her primary caregiver gone, Shepherd relied on her connection to Motherly Intercession even more. Her brother was eventually adopted by a loving family and she went on to try independent living. “Losing my mom was really hard on me,” she says. “She was really the only stability I knew and after I lost her, Motherly Intercession was all I had.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Impact: Through our Strengthening Incarcerated Families Program (SIF) we served the following inside and outside of the jail collectively. 662 incarcerated parents and alternate caregivers. 1,273 children of incarcerated parents. Impact: Listed below are evaluation outcomes from our Reading And Counting to Success (RACS) Program for the 2013 – 2014 school year. We consider those outcomes in addition to the Jameshia Shepherd story to be evidence that RACS is making a positive impact in the lives of these children by improving their academic achievement and growth. 15% of our students improved 2 grade levels. 35% of our students improved 1 grade level. 95% of our students improved in reading and math.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have a strategic plan for fund development in place which encourages diversification of our income streams however; national grants are highly competitive and the economic conditions in our community prior to the "poisonous water crisis" were poor. Since then we continued to see the level local grants and donations diminish. We will continue to strive to identify donors and sources of funding outside of our local geographic area and PRAY!

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Motherly Intercession commenced in 1999, and was the first and remains to be the only organization Motherly Intercession is the only organization in Genesee County who is serving this population exclusively in jail setting. Our program intervention in jail setting provides opportunity for parents to strive to redirect themselves, and preserve their family structure, before building a criminal history that will propel them deeper into the correctional system. Additionally, we collaborate with the Mich. Prison Re-entry staff to identify parents who are in need of our services after release.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Our program model is designed to provide our clients a very comprehensive system of support. Our initial research project coupled with seventeen years of experience in serving this population has enabled us to build the trust and respect of the incarcerated families and provided us a wealth of knowledge and experience in serving this very vulnerable population successfully.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Dr. Alison Miller, Professor and Researcher University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Dept. of Public Health

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 50%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 50%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 66.7%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 16.7%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 16.7%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 16.7%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 66.7%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 16.7%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 33.3%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 50%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 50%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%

Attachments (1)


Organization's Brochure.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carissa Purnell

Thank you for what you do, where you do it, and how you do it. We are in East Salinas where some of the same systemic issues impacting Flint, hit us close. In California we have been working with Prop 47 that reduces certain felonies to misdemeanors, and as you can imagine the war on drugs has left daunting records for many of our families of color who now have a glimmer of hope. I'd be really interesting in connecting to see how you have collaborated with other groups and worked within the system to be a form of support for the families you serve. 

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