Program Update: Just Beginning

Program Update: Just Beginning


justbeginningIn 2015, First3Years launched the Just Beginning program to address the parenting support needs of fathers within the juvenile justice system in Dallas County. Just Beginning has been previously implemented among incarcerated parents in California, Connecticut, and Ohio with great success. First3Years is the first to carry out this program in Texas.


Just Beginning (formerly known as Baby Elmo) is a parenting program for incarcerated parents that teaches them strategies to positively interact with their children, develop parenting skills, and foster positive emotional bonds that will continue to be advantageous to the family after the parent is released. Supporting adjudicated teen fathers as parents and providing them the tools to address the needs of their children helps build protective factors for both the father and child.


Just Beginning is media-based, using Sesame Street videos, curriculum, discussion, and play sessions. There are five videos catered towards attachment theory, following the child’s lead, talking to your baby, praise, and bringing it all together. There are also five videotaped parent-child interactions that are evaluated to judge the efficacy of the program. With our partner Café Momentum, Just Beginning hopes to reach a minimum of 30 fathers and their children. Georgetown University serves as evaluator for this initiative.


Benefits for initiatives that focus on teenage fathers range from reduced recidivism to maintenance of family ties. Involved fathers are shown to have a decrease in negative behaviors ranging from less substance abuse to less than average contact with the criminal justice system. Fathers also learn important personality aspects from their children, including having an expanded ability for caring and nurturance, and deepened emotions and emotional intensity. Teen fathers who are emotionally attached to their children can provide protective factors against risky behaviors by the child later in life. By providing these fathers the necessary tools to connect emotionally with their child, Just Beginning supports a lifetime of positive mental health in the child and helps strengthen the mental health of the father.


We thank our funders, Gaston Episcopal Hospital Foundation, The Dallas Foundation, and Communities Foundation of Texas, whose support enables Just Beginning to help positively shape the lives of incarcerated fathers and their children.


Matthew Willoughby joined as the coordinator for the Just Beginning program in November 2015. He has a profound interest in the two-generation approach with families, which creates opportunities for and addresses the needs of both vulnerable children and their families together. He also has a special interest in paternal involvement. One of Matt’s favorite quotes is, “Being a great father is like shaving. No matter how good you shaved today, you have to do it again tomorrow.” (Reed Markham)