Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children?

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Year Published
Author (Individual)
Murphey, David.
Cooper, P. Mae.
Author (Organization)
Child Trends.
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This report uses the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health to examine both the prevalence of parental incarceration and child outcomes associated with it. Based on the analyses, more than five million children, representing 7% of all U.S. children, have had a parent who lived with them go to jail or prison. The proportion was found to be higher among black, poor, and rural children. After accounting for effects associated with demographic variables such as race and income, the study found 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. Implications of the findings for are discussed and ways to mitigate the harm of parental imprisonment for children are explored. Recommendations include reducing the trauma and stigma these children experience, improving communications between the child and the incarcerated parent, and making visits with the incarcerated parent more child-friendly to alleviate some of the negative effects of this separation. 2 table and 34 references.

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