Who Benefits from Family Literacy Programs?
Padak and Rasinski (2003) summarized the findings of 93 family literacy studies from the adult literacy, emergent literacy, child development, and systems analysis fields. Although only one study referenced prisons in the title, most involved families with demographics that were similar to those of families of prisoners. These demographics are well known and include people who are poor, marginalized, minority, English language learners, migrant workers, and immigrants, as well as those with disabilities, limited schooling, poor work histories, and health problems. Padak and Rasinski's review provides compelling evidence that family literacy programs helped children and adults improve academically, linguistically, in their attitudes toward learning, and in written communication. Adults who participated in these programs became more knowledgeable and aware of their roles and responsibilities as parents and experienced more job satisfaction. Families grew closer when parents became more involved with their children's schooling and read to them more frequently and engagingly.
Regarding benefits to adults, a number of researchers cited advantages of family literacy programs over traditional or workplace literacy programs (Askov, 2004; McDonald & Scollay, 2002; Padak & Rasinski, 2003; Purcell-Gates, Degener, Jacobson & Soler, 2000; Ricciuti, St. Pierre, Lee & Parsad, 2004). These advantages included persistence in adult literacy programs, higher rates of learning and GED completions, stronger bonds between parents and children, and improved goal setting and self-advocacy.
The extent to which these findings hold for families separated by prison is unclear. To what degree can incarcerated mothers and fathers become involved in their children's day-to-day school problems and projects, and health care needs? To what extent do parents in prison have opportunities to read with their children or even communicate with them? The few studies that address these questions are explored below.