Prison Sentences An article on prison nurseries led Kate Krings to create a program that helps incarcerated mothers and their babies bond, develop and learn. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   March 01, 2017
Prison Sentences
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader.
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Healthcare Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   March 01, 2017
Prison Sentences
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22032017.20
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22032017.20
Name: Kate Krings, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Lecturer and fieldwork coordinator, University of Washington Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
Hometown: Seattle
The question came to Kate Krings as she read a magazine article about prison nurseries: What can I do to help these vulnerable young children and their caregivers?
Soon after, she called the associate superintendent of programs at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, and offered to share her skills as a speech-language pathologist in the center’s residential parenting program. Krings felt she could create a program to give the babies strong social and emotional foundations while training mothers and other caregivers on related skills.
The associate supervisor responded openly and enthusiastically to Krings’ proposal. The center is the only prison nursery working with Early Head Start (EHS), and the supervisor thought the SLP’s ability to work on communication and social skills enhanced supports already in place. After meeting to discuss options, they decided to plan Krings’ first visit with the moms for early 2016.
“These moms can feel so alone,” Krings says. “This highly vulnerable population responds well to having us come from outside of the corrections system and show we care.”

Future plans for the program include creating a model other prison nurseries can use.

Meeting needs
Krings, a lecturer in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington (UW), prepared for her visits by researching details about the prison’s residential parenting program. Women who are pregnant when incarcerated can apply for the program, which accepts up to 20 babies at a time. Part of the screening ensures the mother is released by the time the baby ages out of the program at 30 months. Until release, mothers and babies share a small room in a special unit within the minimum-security section of the facility, which also includes a nursery, playroom and daycare staffed partially by EHS providers.
Other inmates can apply to be caregivers and live in the unit. These women must complete rigorous training in order to care for the babies when the mothers are working, taking classes or performing other required tasks.
Krings also completed the Hanen Centre’s “It Takes Two” certification, which focuses on coaching parents to provide interventions.
She hopes to secure a grant allowing her to incorporate the Promoting First Relationships curriculum, a parent training program at UW’s Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health and Development. The program teaches caregivers how to build trusting relationships with infants while helping develop their social and emotional skills.
Parenting lessons
The first of Krings’ workshops at the prison focused on “observe-wait-listen” techniques from the Hanen course, which Krings received permission to modify. For each visit, Krings or one of her nine graduate students—who receive experience-learning hours for participation—delivers about 45 minutes of parenting techniques and strategies. Afterward, each mother-child pair works with a practicing or future SLP. These intimate groupings allow Krings and her students to personalize material for each woman. In addition, this individual time gives each inmate a chance to be heard, adds Krings.
Active listening and responsiveness is a big focus. Krings and her group teach mothers and caregivers how to look for communication cues from babies, then respond appropriately. They share the importance of adding language to mundane tasks, such as singing a song about body parts while changing the baby’s clothes. One workshop covers various types of play and the importance of interacting face-to-face with children.
The moms also want to know about typical developmental milestones, so Krings provides a session on speech and language indicators. The most recent workshop focused on dialogic reading strategies.
About 90 percent of the inmates served by the program have children outside the prison nursery as well. These moms want strategies they can use during visits, on the phone or when they get released, Krings says. She covers approaches for children up to 5 years old to better help inmates with current and future needs.

Krings and her group teach mothers and caregivers how to look for communication cues from babies, then respond appropriately.

Widening reach
Back in early 2016, as Krings and some graduate students prepared for their first prison visit, a new faculty member joined the department. Amy Pace works primarily on early intervention research—she directs the Child Language Research Lab—and immediately offered to help. Pace collaborates with Krings on planning the visits, while also applying for grants to fund the program.
Krings has presented six workshops at the prison so far. She hopes to increase the frequency with funding from another grant, thanks to Pace. Even if that money doesn’t come through, Krings plans to provide another four or five workshops this year. “I hope we also get funding to study this population,” Krings says. “Amy [Pace] wants to do this study and create a model that other prison nurseries can use.”
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March 2017
Volume 22, Issue 3