Corrections Program Encourages Mother-Infant Bonding

Article excerpt

In Baltimore, women in the penal system who are pregnant or have children under 3 months old may be eligible for a residential program that allows them to remain with their infants. Since 2001, TAMAR's Children (Trauma, Addiction, Mental Health, and Recovery) has helped incarcerated mothers develop secure attachments with their infants.

Women participating in TAMAR's Children have been diagnosed with substance abuse addictions due to trauma, such as losing a baby or witnessing domestic violence, and are serving sentences from 14 months to three years for nonviolent crimes. After being accepted into TAMAR's Children, the women are placed on parole or probation and must remain in the program for six months. Up to 16 women can participate at one time.

Without TAMAR's Children, participants would give birth in prison and lose their children to foster care. On the other hand, children who become attached to their mothers during infancy are "more resilient and perform better in school," according to TAMAR's Children therapist Kate Oliver.

Babies remain with their mothers throughout the program, and the women interact as a community. The mother of a 3-month-old infant, for example, might help the mother of a newborn learn how to change diapers. The mothers receive individual therapy with a trauma therapist and an addictions counselor. Group discussions focus on topics that include relationships and communication. The women follow the mantra, "Always be bigger, stronger, wise, and kind. Whenever possible, follow my lead; whenever necessary, take the lead."

A video component called Circle of security depicts real-life secure and insecure attachment cases. Used in some Head Start programs, the intervention is based on more than 50 years of research about mother and infant attachment. …