Children of Incarcerated Parents

Prioritizing, Parenting and Protecting Our Children

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of individuals incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States had reached almost 1.6 million by the end of 2008. One in every 99 U.S.residents is in a prison or jail (PewCenter, 2008). One in every 31 Americans is incarcerated or on parole/probation (PewCenter, 2008).

Approximately, 10 million children nationwide have a parent who has been incarcerated. 2.3 million of those children, or roughly one child out of every 30, currently has a parent in state or federal prison.

And how are the children?  Research has shown that these children generally do not fare well. Many experience poverty, the effects of substance abuse and/or illegal activities and family instability prior to the parent’s incarceration. Their experience once the parent is taken away is not much better. They must cope with the stigma of family involvement in the criminal justice system, the loss of a parent and the isolation that comes with coping with these issues in silence. Children whose parents have ever been incarcerated are twice as likely as other children to be involved in state services, such as TANF, mental health services and child protective services (Washington State Department of Social and Health Services 2008).

The problem of incarceration and divided families disproportionately affects poor families of color. Many incarcerated parents have not completed high school and have serious substance abuse issues. Many of these parents will remain in prison while their children reach adulthood. Parental incarceration negatively impacts both the parent’s income level and ability to support his/her children and the child’s long-term ability to rise up the income ladder in his/her adult life.

It is time to bring these children out of the shadows and to help their families give them the support they need. One step is to give parents the skills to help their children stay connected and learn to lead healthy, prosocial lives.

The Children’s Justice Alliance developed toolkits for professionals working with children impacted by a parent’s incarceration. They are free and available here:

Social Services Professionals Toolkit                                Educational Services Professionals Toolkit

Law Enforcement Professionals Toolkit                             Legal Services Professionals Toolkit

References

Eddy, J. M., Cearley, J. J., Bergen, J., & Stern-Carusone, J. (2013). Children of incarcerated parents. In D. L. DuBois & M. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Eddy, J. M., Martinez, C. R., Jr., & Burraston, B. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of a parent management training program for incarcerated parents: Proximal impacts. In J. Poehlmann & J. M. Eddy (Eds.), Relationship processes and resilience in children with incarcerated parents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78 (3), 75-93.

Poehlmann, J., & Eddy, J. M. (2013). Introduction and conceptual framework. In J. Poehlmann & J. M. Eddy (Eds.), Relationship processes and resilience in children with incarcerated parents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78 (3), 1-6.

Poehlmann, J. & Eddy, J. M. (Eds.) (2013). Relationship processes and resilience in children with incarcerated parents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78 (3).

Kjellstrand, J. M., Cearley, J., Eddy, J. M., Foney, D., & Martinez, Jr., C. R. (2012). Characteristics of incarcerated fathers and mothers: Implications for preventive interventions targeting children and families. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 2409-2415.

Kjellstrand, J. M., & Eddy, J. M. (2011). Mediators of the effect of parental incarceration on adolescent externalizing behaviors. Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 551-565.

Kjellstrand, J. M., & Eddy, J. M. (2011). Parental incarceration during childhood and its relationship to family and youth functioning across adolescence. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50, 18-36.

Eddy, J. M., Kjellstrand, J., Martinez, C. R., Jr., & Newton, R. (2010). Theory-based multimodal parenting intervention for incarcerated parents and their children. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners (pp. 237-261). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Eddy, J. M., & Poehlmann, J. (2010). Multidisciplinary perspectives on research and intervention with children of incarcerated parents. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners (pp. 1-9). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Poehlmann, J., & Eddy, J. M. (2010). A research and intervention agenda for children of incarcerated parents. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners (pp. 319-341). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Eddy, J. M., & Poehlmann, J. (Eds.) (2010). Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Eddy, J. M., Martinez, C. R., Jr., Schiffmann, T., Newton, R., Olin, L., Leve, L. D., Foney, D. M., Shortt, J. Wu. (2008). Development of a multisystemic parent management training intervention for incarcerated parents, their children and families. Clinical Psychologist, 12(3), 86-98.