"Who do we want coming home?"Image by: Movember
13 November 2023

Movember supports scaling up of Dad HERO program in Canadian prisons

4 minutes read time

Movember is funding a parenting program in Canadian prisons that is helping dads to stay connected to their children, supporting their mental health, and improving their chances of reintegrating into society and their family lives after they leave prison.

The Dad HERO (Helping Everyone Realize Opportunities) project, which is delivered by the Canadian Families and Corrections Network (CFCN),has been offered in 19 prisons across Canada from Kent Institution in British Columbia to Springhill Institute in Nova Scotia.

To date, 530 men from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds have taken part in Dad HERO since it was launched in 2017.

CFCN has estimated that more than half of the men in Canadian prisons are fathers and at least 450,000 Canadian children have a parent who is incarcerated.

“Being in prison is horribly isolating,” says Louise Leonardi, executive director of Canadian Families and Corrections Network.

“It's violent, it's crowded. We have men who say they are scared to stay in their cell because they know it's not good for their mental health, but they are scared to leave their cell because they're afraid they'll be stabbed. This kind of isolation and conditions are not at all conducive to positive mental health.”

Research shows that strong family relationships not only help people cope better with being in prison, it can help when it comes to reintegrating into society and lowers their chances of going back into prison. It also decreases the risk that their children will follow their parent's footsteps into crime.

The Dad HERO program, which was created by CFCN in partnership with the Correctional Service of Canada, starts with an 8-week parenting course to help incarcerated dads deepen their understanding of childrearing and make the most of their connection to their children, despite being physically separated from them.

From there, the men move into a Dad Group in the prison that meets regularly to keep them connected through their shared experience as fathers. The project also offers a Dad Group when they leave prison to continue to help them focus on parenting and supports their reintegration into family life.

Louise says: “The men in our program are given the opportunity to be together, to learn about how to be a good dad. Some of these people have never had that opportunity.

“With Dad HERO, we bring them into an environment where they are not just a number. They are a name now, a dad, and that identity is incredibly powerful. The fact that they are focused on something that they care so much about – their children and their family – is incredible to them.

“We give them opportunity, tips, and tools for how to connect with their family and their friends on the outside. We give them a safe and welcoming environment on the inside to connect with each other to bond over something positive - their children and to have a moment to laugh and just be a normal person.”

Movember Canada Country Director, Todd Minerson says: “At Movember, we believe emphatically in the idea that healthier men result in healthier families, which means a healthier world. We also know that we mean all men, even those who are currently incarcerated. That is why we love the work of Dad HERO, helping incarcerated Canadian men who are fathers get set up for the best chance of success upon their release. It’s good for them, great for their kids, and improves the health outcomes for everyone.”

With over 95% of incarcerated people eventually returning to the community, the impact of this mental health programming not only within the prisons, but also the family connections built during this time is critical.

“We’re pleased that Movember support of Dad HERO is resulting in fathers across Canada reporting that they have developed new social connections and strengthened the relationship with their families,” shared Ivy Lim-Carter, Director of Social Innovation, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

Movember has been involved with Dad HERO since 2016, through the Social Innovators Challenge, a grant funding program set up to test innovative ideas about what engages men to build strong social connections, particularly those who are at risk of becoming socially isolated.

Learn more about the Movember-funded programs making a difference.