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Relational Connections are a Pathway to Recovery – Interview with Heather Howard

When were you a PHP volunteer?

1991-1992 I volunteered as a senior at Boston College. I completed an Independent Study for Psychology and wrote an essay about my experience at the time Parents Anonymous and supporting parents. 

What did you value most about your experience?

As an undergraduate I studied Developmental Psychology and was a research assistant for a cultural psychologist who examined different cultural practices in parenting in Kenya and gender differences in early childhood education. I wanted to continue my graduate education and work with families in crisis. . 

What inspired you to want to research parenting groups for incarcerated mothers?

I strive to be a social-justice based researcher and strive to advocate for groups that may feel powerless. Mothers who have a substance use disorder experience tremendous external stigma from society. In addition, we know that up to 90 % have a history of childhood trauma including childhood sexual abuse. This population often intersects with        the child welfare and criminal justice systems. My aim is to develop interventions from a trauma-healing approach rather than a punitive approach. 

What is the biggest take away from your research? Are there any critical implications for our group facilitators in prisons to know?

Establishing relational connections with one another and with our children are a pathway to recovery. Our study demonstrated the importance of mutual aid in sharing knowledge and experiences with one another in a group. When a participant is able to give to another group member this is often transformational. PHP uses the mutual aid model and this provides an opportunity for positive change and growth. In addition, the mutual aid approach is a best      practice in group work and can be facilitated by a non-mental health clinician. This is a promising practice for policy makers and funders to consider to build families. As we know stronger families build stronger communities. 


Do you have any suggestions for how PHP can make sure our support services are trauma-informed?

The mutual aid model lends itself to have the 6 key principles of a trauma-informed approach: 1. , 2. and , 3. , 4. , 5. and 6. . If we consider the impact parental incarceration has on children, using a trauma-informed approach address this in our work with parents who are incarcerated. 

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