The Baby Elmo Program: Improving Teen Father–Child Interactions within Juvenile Justice Facilities

Published On: December 1, 2010


The aim of the Baby Elmo Program is to establish a low-cost, sustainable parenting and structured visitation
program for non-custodial incarcerated teen parents. The program is taught and supervised by probation staff
in juvenile detention facilities and unlike traditional programs, this intervention is not based on increasing the
teen’s abstract parenting knowledge, but rather in building a relationship between the teen and his child. The
sessions target the interactional quality of the relationship by introducing relationship, communication, and
socio-emotional enhancing techniques. Because the intervention is conducted in the context of parent–child
visits, it fosters hands-on learning and increases the opportunity for contact between these young parents and
their children, a benefit in itself. Twenty father–infant dyads, with infants ranging in age from 6 to 36 months,
participated in the present preliminary evaluation of the program. Individual growth curve analyses showed
significant gains in five of six measures of emotional responsiveness with the age of infant as a significant
covariate. These results indicate improvements in positive high quality interactions and communication
during sessions between infants and their incarcerated parents and this increase in the interactional quality of
the relationship increases the likelihood that the incarcerated teen and child will form and maintain a positive
relationship with one another.

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