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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The effects of parental incarceration on children

I have written in the past about the impact on chidlren of incarcerating parents. A couple of new reports in the United States highlight the concerns.

The first report Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to the their Children? really emphasizes that the impact of incarceration on children is not a central part of the conversation. This means that, as a society, we are not talking about the fragmentation of families, the loss of the parent figure, the deterioration of economic and social position and the costs to society when the children are marginalized in this way.

The report is reminiscent of the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies when the authors note:

Previous research has found connections between parental incarceration and childhood health problems, behavior problems, and grade retention. It has also been linked to poor mental and physical health in adulthood 
After accounting for effects associated with demographic variables such as race and income, we found that parental incarceration was associated with: • a higher number of other major, potentially traumatic life events—stressors that are most damaging when they are cumulative; • more emotional difficulties, low school engagement, and more problems in school, among children ages 6 to 11; and • a greater likelihood of problems in school among older youth (12 to 17), as well as less parental monitoring (pp.1-2)

The report suggests that looking at why and how we incarcerate is important but also says that we must begin to think more carefully about the ways that we support and intervene with the children. There is very little research (and perhaps even less evidence based programming) on how to work with this vulnerable population.

The second report, Removing Barriers to Opportunity for Parents with Criminal Records talks about the implications of having a criminal record.  The report notes that the United States leads the world in arrests and incarceration so their experience can act as an important source of learning for us. The report notes:

While the effects of parental incarceration on children and families are well-documented, less appreciated are the family consequences that stem from the barriers associated with having a criminal record, whether or not the parent has ever been convicted or spent time behind bars. A child’s life chances are strongly tied to his or her circumstances during childhood. Thus, these barriers may not only affect family stability and economic security in the short term but also may damage a child’s long-term well-being and outcomes.

The report also helps us to see the effects across all important domains in a family's life:

Income. Parents with criminal records have lower earning potential, as they often face major obstacles to securing employment and receiving public assistance. • Savings and assets. Mounting criminal justice debts and unaffordable child support arrears severely limit families’ ability to save for the future and can trap them in a cycle of debt. • Education. Parents with criminal records face barriers to education and training opportunities that would increase their chances of finding well-paying jobs and better equip them to support their families. • Housing. Barriers to public as well as private housing for parents with criminal records can lead to housing instability and make family reunification difficult if not impossible. • Family strength and stability. Financial and emotional stressors associated with parental criminal records often pose challenges in maintaining healthy relationships and family stability (p.2)

 It's a topic that deserves more attention particularly focusing on helping families and children manage the changes, stay connected and build resiliency to face the impacts of involvement in the criminal justice system.

 

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