(INDIANAPOLIS) – With Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Facilities pausing visitors and volunteers alike, four social work students from Texas State University chose this unprecedented time to reach across state lines for a virtual partnership with the Officer Breann Leath Memorial Maternal & Child Health Unit (Leath MCHU), formerly known as the Wee Ones program at the Indiana Women’s Prison (IWP).
Hadley Jauer, Kenneth Riel, Christopher Finfrock, and Emma Jordan, social work students at Texas State University, are currently enrolled in a macro-level practice course aimed at enabling students to serve in agency settings and facilitate community interventions. In this class, students must partner with an organization to help them meet the needs of the population they serve. Through a person-centered lens, students gain the knowledge and skills of assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating a community intervention, preparing them to work with vulnerable and marginalized individuals typically aided by social services. In mid-September, the students reached out to the IDOC Transitional Healthcare team over Zoom to offer their assistance with projects to benefit the Leath MCHU.
“We were so eager to be working with such a unique and cutting-edge program that is paving the way toward revolutionizing the American criminal justice system,” says social work student, Hadley Jauer. “The unit’s focus on empowerment, rehabilitation, and long-term change—rather than punishment—was what drew our group to work with the Leath MCHU.” Upon the project’s completion, the students will write a project process paper, prepare a PowerPoint summary, and present a research poster on the work they completed.
The students have assisted the Transitional Healthcare Team in creating both pre and post assessments for women who come through the Leath MCHU measuring the mothers’ educational growth on parenting and child development topics. Student Emma Jordan, who has a special passion for child development, initiated the creation of an enrichment activities binder for the infants in the unit. Each of the students took a different role in completing the binder, collaborating to create innovative ways for the mothers to engage their children in developmental play. Students Kenneth Riel and Christopher Finfrock aided in developing “facility-friendly” baby toys the mothers can craft using materials commonly found in correctional facility settings. “We are so excited to have the mothers start using these infant enrichment activities and crafts with their children,” says IDOC Maternal-Child Healthcare Coordinator, Leah Hession. “The mothers in the unit are so grateful for everything the students are doing for their children. It’s an inspiration to us all to see the students’ dedication in serving such a vulnerable population with dignity and compassion.”
In the past twelve months the Leath MCHU has expanded its bed space to accommodate a greater number of pregnant mothers and infants, leading to an increased need for supplies. Upon learning of this need, the students created an online fundraiser to purchase diapering supplies and strollers for releasing mothers. Thus far, the virtual fundraiser has raised over $450.
Student Emma Jordan was especially touched by the opportunity to work with the Leath MCHU. “This opportunity has allowed me to further explore my interest in human and child development. Getting to see the theories I have learned in my social work and development classes applied to real people and make positive impacts on their lives has been such a rewarding and gratifying experience. We feel so honored to be a part of an innovative program that is paving the way for other prisons by fighting to empower and highlight the dignity and worth of the women and children in this program.” Emma Jordan
The Leath MCHU, overseen by the IDOC Transitional Health Team, encourages the preservation of family by providing incarcerated mothers a meaningful transition into the community. The unit utilizes a holistic approach for the continuum of care by recognizing the mothers’ strengths and barriers to the social determinants of health.