Parental Incarceration and Child Well-Being: Implications for Urban Families

Columbia University.
Social Science Quarterly (Impact Factor: 0.99). 12/2009; 90(5):1186-1202. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2009.00653.x
Source: PubMed


Objective. Using a population-based, longitudinal family survey (N=4,898), we identify economic, residential, and developmental risks particular to the children of incarcerated parents.
Methods. We use parental reports of incarceration history, demographic background, and a rich set of child and family outcomes, in a series of multivariate regression models.
Results. Children of incarcerated parents face more economic and residential instability than their counterparts. Sons of incarcerated fathers display more behavior problems, though other developmental differences are insignificant.
Conclusions. We find that incarceration identifies families facing severe hardship that cannot be explained by other observed family characteristics. Given the prevalence of incarceration, our findings suggest that a large population of children suffers unmet material needs, residential instability, and behavior problems. These risks may be best addressed by using the point of incarceration as an opportunity for intervention and the administration of age-appropriate social services.

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Available from: Amanda Geller, Oct 26, 2015
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    • "By focusing on the mental well-being of children of prisoners, we have the ability to explore differences between children of incarcerated mothers and fathers. Our ability to examine children who have experienced either maternal or paternal incarceration is unique in that few studies have been able to compare both forms of parental imprisonment (c.f., Geller et al., 2009). Given that women's prison populations continue to grow at higher rates than men's (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008), it is increasingly important to understand the mental health status of their children. "
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    ABSTRACT: High rates of imprisonment among American men and women have motivated recent research on the well-being of children of incarcerated parents. Despite advances in the literature, little is known regarding the mental health status of children who experience maternal relative to paternal incarceration. Accordingly, we examine whether there are differences in mental health needs among children of incarcerated parents. Specifically, we assess whether incarcerated mothers are more likely than incarcerated fathers to report that their children suffer from mental health problems. Using cross-sectional data on children (N = 1,221) compiled from a sample of parents confined in the Arizona Department of Corrections, we find that children of incarcerated mothers are significantly more likely to be identified as suffering from mental health problems. This effect remained even after controlling for additional parent stressors and child risk factors such as exposure to violence, in utero exposure to drugs/alcohol, and parental mental illness. Policy implications and directions for future research are discussed.
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    • "Rather than making these communities " better " or " safer, " scholars have argued that high incarceration rates tend to exacerbate these very conditions and can make life even more difficult for those left behind—especially children and those charged with their care (Foster and Hagan, 2007; Geller et al., 2009; Wakefield and Wildeman, 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: While policy makers have long extolled the benefits of incarceration, criminologists have expended considerable effort demonstrating the harmful collateral consequences of incarceration. Sampson (2011) recently challenged researchers to move beyond this dichotomy and to assess the “social ledger” of incarceration, where both the potential benefits and harms associated with incarceration are examined. To shed light on the variation in the collateral consequences of incarceration, we focus on the experiences of a valuable group of individuals directly impacted by imprisonment: those caring for children of incarcerated parents. Drawing from in-depth interviews with a diverse group of caregivers (N = 100), we examine the various consequences (both positive and negative) that occur in their lives as a result of incarceration, as well as the causal processes responsible for the outcomes we observe. Our findings reveal marked variation in the effects of incarceration on caregivers. Such effects are shaped by (1) the prisoner’s prior parental involvement, (2) the interpersonal relationship between caregiver and prisoner, and (3) the caregiver’s family support system. These findings have important implications for future work conducted on the collateral consequences of incarceration for caregivers, children, and families.
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    • "The authors also find that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to experience material hardship. While both Phillips et al. (2006) and Geller et al. (2009) examine associations between incarceration and material hardship, neither study examines the causal nature of these relationships. The relationships they observe may be the result of differences between groups other than paternal incarceration, such as mothers' physical or mental health, or unobserved differences between fathers who are and are not incarcerated. "
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    ABSTRACT: High rates of incarceration among American men, coupled with a high prevalence of fatherhood among the incarcerated, have led to millions of children and families whose fathers are, or have been, in the nation’s jails and prisons. This study uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey to estimate the extent to which paternal incarceration increases family material hardship. Analyses from a series of longitudinal regression models suggest that material hardship is statistically significantly and positively associated with paternal incarceration. These hardships are found to reflect not only a reduction in fathers’ income and financial contributions but also an increase in financial and other family strains. The findings underscore the challenges facing families with incarcerated fathers. They also emphasize the need for efforts by criminal justice agencies and social service providers to help mitigate the risks associated with paternal incarceration.
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