The Pathfinder Network x KidsMates
By David Martoma, Age 12
Today, KidsMates speaks with Leticia Longoria-Navarro about the value of lived experiences and the power of positive support programs and services for families affected by incarceration. Leticia is no stranger to the challenges of the criminal justice system as the child of formerly incarcerated parents and family members. Leticia used those experiences when she started working at The Pathfinder Network (TPN) in 2010. She began as a TPN group facilitator leading various classes at the Oregon Department of Corrections and eventually went to work as a Parole and Probation officer for five years. In this capacity, Leticia created a counselor/social worker relationship with returning citizens and was named Parole and Probation Officer of the Year by the state of Oregon for her humanizing approach to the criminal justice process. In 2016, she rejoined TPN in programs and training before being promoted to Associate Executive Director in 2017 and Executive Director in 2020. Leticia has worn many hats in these roles - practitioner, developer, trainer, manager, and evaluator. She sees her main goal as guiding individuals and organizations experiencing change. No matter how she is helping, colleagues regularly complement Leticia’s “engaging and spirited leadership.” In her spare time, Leticia is a proud sister of Gamma Alpha Omega Sorority, a Latina-founded community service sorority, where she continues to serve as a member of her local alumni chapter. During our interview, I’ll ask Leticia about many topics affecting children and families of incarcerated people, including Parenting Inside Out and her advice for engaging in social change. Without further ado, please welcome our honored guest today, Leticia Longoria-Navarro.
David: Hello, Leticia. Thanks for joining KidsMates today. I know we are in different time zones, but our families of the incarcerated are everywhere, so we appreciate your joining us today. Let’s start with a little about you. Can you tell us your connection to the criminal justice system and The Pathfinder Network?
Leticia: I have had the privilege of spending almost my entire professional career working in and around the criminal justice system with the goal of making it better and, more importantly, making the experience others have with it better. Through my own lived experiences as a child and adult impacted by parental and family incarceration, I have felt and seen the importance of keeping families connected, as well as the many negative impacts that systems can have on children and families. Maintaining parental and family bonds when a loved one is incarcerated benefits us all on many levels. As a member of this community, I believe it is our responsibility to support these relationships and bonds, lift up the voices of, advocate for, and support children of incarcerated parents and assist those returning as they navigate reentry.
In my current role as Executive Director of The Pathfinder Network, I support our Parenting Inside Out (PIO) parenting skills program that was created to support systems-impacted parents and families and to support the bond between parents, caregivers, and their children. I love this part of our work that has such personal meaning to me. Our work inspires me and brings such meaning to my experiences and the experiences of others I know and have worked with. The Pathfinder Networks mission is to provide the tools and support justice involved individual’s need to be safe and thrive in their communities.
David: Wow, you really care about helping families impacted by the criminal justice system. I know this year has been hectic with Covid and a major overseas war, but I’m wondering what you would say is the most significant thing you and TPN have done recently to help children or families facing incarceration?
Leticia: Over the last three years, The Pathfinder Network has made a significant commitment to developing, piloting, and improving an enhanced visiting program, Parenting Inside Out, Phase II, for incarcerated graduates of our Parenting Inside Out program in Partnership with the Oregon Department of Corrections. Our efforts were significantly impacted by the pandemic, and we have had to pivot many times to maintain the integrity and spirit of the program, to keep incarcerated parents and their children connected, and to mitigate the negative impacts of incarceration on children and the family as a whole.
I love that the next phase of PIO includes working with and supporting children and caregivers and has led to more contact, more visits, sending materials and support to children and caregivers, and has invested individually in parents in the program, helping them to prepare for release and parenting upon reentry. We have been able to develop an in-person and remote delivery version of the program, which has led to being able to reach parents across the state. We have also worked to change the visiting spaces by providing trauma-informed emotional intelligence training for staff working the spaces and brought in materials to facilitate connection and bonding during the enhanced visits. We have been fortunate to receive funding from the Department of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for this project. We are so excited to see it grow, expand and support many children and families facing incarceration!
David: Awesome. Your work here will benefit so many children and families impacted by incarceration, and I love that you have a virtual version of the program. It’s undoubtedly helping to minimize some of the pandemic’s disruption. As you undertake the work, is there anything people misconceive about what you’re doing? If so, what would you like them to know?
Leticia: I want people to understand the importance, value, and necessity of those with lived experience leading and engaging in this work. Not only should they be centered, but they should also be co-creating and leading. Those in places of influence and power have an opportunity to prioritize space and power for those most impacted, and I believe they should take it whenever possible. It is also critical to understand and lift up those impacted folks that have been leading for a long time and moving this work along. I celebrate them.
Our agency has made an intentional effort to prioritize hiring and engaging individuals with lived experience and partnering with others who share the same value and commitment. Our team represents and reflects those we were created to advocate for, serve and work alongside. I have been witness to some of the most relevant, impactful, powerful, and transformative work because of our commitment.
David: That’s amazing. As someone with lived experiences myself, I will keep your comments in mind for future opportunities with TPN. [Smiling] I agree. There is no better qualification for this work. What is one thing you can tell us about the current state of affairs for children or families dealing with incarceration?
Leticia: Now more than ever, we need to invest in keeping families connected and understand the many ways families and the individuals that make them up are affected by the criminal justice system. It is crucial we see the strengths, resilience, and successes as much as we do the risks and challenges. Let’s keep our eyes and energy on strategies that add, reinforce, acknowledge and celebrate what is already there and what can be. To do this, we have to listen by suspending judgment and the applying of our own lenses, and listen again!
David: Seeing as you have spent your entire professional career helping children or families experiencing incarceration, do you have any tips for coping with adversity?
Leticia: I think the most powerful tips I could share are…you matter, your voice matters, and you are not alone! Support in meaningful forms can be so powerful. I am hopeful you can find and access support that sees and empowers you. One positive relationship can make a difference. It was Bob Grovenburg, my life skills teacher, for me. He changed the trajectory of my life. From my heart…we see you!
I am really excited about a new program that we just launched that focuses on supporting, uplifting and empowering youth impacted by the criminal justice system – The PATHfinder Club: Paving a Trail of Hope. We have partnered with Parkrose High School, in Portland, Oregon to launch this support Club. Through art, expression and community PATHfinder Club members pave a trail from hurt and harm to hope and healing. We co-create a community where members feel comfortable and confident to stay in school and graduate, expand their resilience, conquer challenges, embrace opportunities for healing and self-expression and connect in meaningful ways with their peers, loved ones and their community. In just the first few sessions we have had over 50 youth participate!
David: I totally agree with you. It is hard to accept the loneliness and meaninglessness you feel going through the criminal justice system or being connected to someone going through the process. Your tips can be a significant game-changer for people facing these problems. I would love to know the inspiration for your ideas. What or who has influenced your thoughts on the criminal justice system and why?
Leticia: I am influenced by the opportunity and obligation I feel to help increase the competency of the criminal justice system and other systems. I am inspired by things counter to the status quo and communities that holistically support all children and families. AND I am most influenced by the hundreds of directly impacted individuals I have worked with and came into contact with, some I share a lived experience with. Their stories, work, and impact in this space and in making the world a better and more just place bring enough inspiration for a lifetime.
David: It looks like you take inspiration from many sources. I’ll bet your willingness to listen is why you are so well respected. Let me ask you one last question that I ask all my guests. If you were giving one last piece of advice about how to make a difference, what would you say?
Leticia: There is a place for everyone in supporting children and families impacted by incarceration. You do not need connections, lived experience, or to know everything or anything. You can volunteer, donate, advocate, show up to support, lift the voices of those who are impacted, spread the word, and so much more. You can reach out to any organization in the space, and they would be happy to connect you to opportunities. The important part is to do something! You are needed.
David: We are all needed! That is a great quote to end our interview. Thank you for joining KidsMates and for sharing your opinion. Click here to learn more about The Pathfinder Network.