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How Children of Incarcerated Parents Are Affected Research Paper

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Updated: May 2nd, 2019


When parents are incarcerated, children tend to face difficulties associated with the lack of close relationship with their parents. As a result, some of these children face trauma due to the separation. Other problems include anger, depression, fear and anxiety. Incarceration also leads to a cause where the child is moved from one care giver to another, which results to behavior change among them.

The problem is more severe when the children’s mothers are incarcerated, because the relationship between them is broken. At times, these children result in failure to withdraw emotionally, and some even fail to go to school. At the time of arrest, policemen do not care to ask about the children’s fate, or what they are going to do with their lives once they lose their parents to incarceration.

The same can be said about the judges and agencies involved in correction, because normally, no one raises these questions. The fact that there are no many agencies involving themselves in collection of this information means that there is unclear knowledge of the number of children who face this problem. The importance of families and parents is undeniable as at times, it affects the social goals, and is a preventive measure of delinquency behaviors among children.

The purpose of the study

The number of children who have their parents incarcerated as per report released in the recent years shows an alarming number. In year 2007, it was estimated the children who had their parents incarcerated was over 1.7 million, which represented about 2.3 percent of all the children population in America.

Between years 1991 to year 2007, it is estimated that the number of children who had parents incarcerated increased by 77 percent (Christian, 2009). During the same year, the percentage increased in mothers, which was about 131 percent. This paper tends to look at the effects those children who have incarcerated parent’s face, and provides a solution to improve the situation of these children.


H (0) Children of incarcerated parents are affected by incarceration of their parents.

H (1) Children of incarcerated parents are not affected by incarceration of their parents.

Literature review

Race and age of the children

The data obtained from the reports released in 2007 had a relationship between the race and the age of the children. The report is also clear to show there lacks relationship between the incarcerated parents and race in reference to mothers. The incarcerated parents of white children showed that in every 1 child whose parent was incarcerated, there were 110 of the white population who were not.

Half of the children that had their parents incarcerated were 9 years or below, while thirty two percent of them were between the years 10 -14 years. The rest of the percentage was between years 15- 17 years (Council of Justice, 2006).

Incarceration of the parents affects almost all the aspects of life of the child left behind. It affects the emotional behavior and the overall behavior of the child. When researching about the effects of incarceration on children, it is usually hard to know whether the way the child turns out to be is due to consequences of incarceration of the parent. Sometimes, the effects of the children may be due to certain things that happened before the child was incarcerated.

It may range from previous mistreatment of children, in case the parents were using drugs or alcohol, or if the parents were suffering from mental illness. Since most researchers do not consider most of these risks that exist before the parents are incarcerated, it is usually very hard to know the effects of incarceration on children.

Though there is no empirical evidence to support some of these claims, it is claimed that children whose parents have been incarcerated have six times likelihood of being incarcerated in future. Some studies have also been keen to show that incarceration has only an independent effect on the behavior of the child, the academic performance as well as the health of the child.

The way the child is going to be affected by incarceration of the parent is usually affected by various factors. Among these factors include: the living arrangement before incarceration of the parent, the degree by which the parent was involved in the life of the child before incarceration, the age of the children, the gender of the child, to mention but a few. The factors discussed below express the level of effect on children due to incarceration of their parents.

Living arrangement before incarceration

According to the data acquired from the justice system, about half of the children whose parents had been incarcerated were living with their parents a month or just some time before the incarceration take place. Also, about a half of the children whose parents were incarcerated were being financially supported by the parents before they were incarcerated.

Another seventy percent of the mothers who were incarcerated were caregivers to their children before they were incarcerated. However, only about twenty six percent of the children were receiving daily care from their fathers. According to this data which was obtained, it was evident the parents had a great involvement in the lives of their children before they were incarcerated.

They did this through living with them, providing them with daily care, as well as providing financial support to them. The results from the data showed there was a considerable number of children who were living with one parent who was later incarcerated (Simmons, 2007).

For those children who were living with a single parent after incarceration, their living arrangement completely changed. Due to incarceration, there is also a very high likelihood of existence of financial hardship, especially if the parent was involved in taking care of the child. The resultant of this is that the standard of living of the children is likely to fall when the provider is no longer there to provide financial support he/she used to offer.

On the same point of economic strain, the household is also likely to bring about instability as there is likelihood of moves which may become often. The health development is also likely to be affected. Poor development of the child is likely to come about due to family instability, which comes about due to incarceration of the parent.

Current caregiver

Children who are living in stable households with concerned caregivers usually end up with better behavior than the children who are living in a family facing instability. Foster care causes several risks to children who have their parents being incarcerated. There is a risk of a loss of connection to school and community due to having the children not being close to their parents.

The bureau of Justice Statistics shows that for every parent who is incarcerated, there is another parent who takes care of these children. The biggest numbers of children who are left behind are left with the grandparents, and this accounts about fifteen percent.

Incarcerated parents contact with Children

When contact is kept between the incarcerated parent and the child, it is of a benefit to both the child and the parent. Although there is little evidence to prove that visits by the children to their parents when they are incarcerated is beneficial to the children, it would be generally important to ensure that a relationship exists.

Research indicates that maintaining the relationships where the child visits the parent when he/she is incarcerated ensures that there is a successful reunion between the two when the parent is released.

Further, the research shows that there is likelihood of post-release success when the parent is released and a parole violation lows when the relationship between the child and the parent is maintained after the parent is incarcerated. Research also shows that about seventy seven percent of the parents had some contact between the parent and the child (Christian,2009).

However, there were certain barriers, which were brought about that reduced the contact in existence. One of such policies is the correction policy, which is in existence. Though the officials who run the correction centers campaign for existence of these visits, security concerns usually minimize these visits.

The correction officers usually ask the people including children for birth certificate to prove that they are the biological children of these parents. Prisons also tend to charge high rates, which are not usually affordable to some of these parents, and at times discourage the visit by children to their parents.

Unfriendliness of the prison environment is the other thing that leads to a lack of existence of relationship between parents and children. Some of the incorporated things that can be considered unfriendly include: frisking of the people visiting the incarcerated, rude treatment by some of the officers, the dirt which is in some of these places, and also the fact that these activities involve children.

Other effects of incarceration of the parent

As earlier noted, incarceration of the parent causes emotional behavior change in the children. However, these are not only the effects that occur to these children. Other problems result from the child welfare law which has been put into practice. The law severely affects the relationship between the parent and the child due to the actions of these agencies. The safe family act of 1997 calls for petition in case one of the children is abandoned.

The act may result in a scenario where the rights of the parents are terminated to the child if there is a proof of the child being abandoned, or the child being in foster care for about 15 months (Christian,2009). Though this act exists, there is an exception to it in case the care giver’s role of the child is left for a relative, and when termination of these rights is not in the best interest of the child.


According to the hypotheses put across, it is clear that incarceration of the parent has effects to the children massively. To start with, there is a loss of the parent-child relationship that is necessary for better growth of a child. The fact that there are acts which ensure children who do not have their parents around them are likely to be put for adoption or taken care by foster homes does not make it any better. Incarceration alone does not constitute to denial of rights of the parent.

The loss of child rights to children due to incarceration comes about due to certain factors that are inclusive of the following: The length of the time that the parent will be incarcerated, whether there is provision of the required child care services, the relationship between the parent and the child as well as whether the incarceration of the parent is often.

The effects of children due to incarceration do not end just because the parent gets out of prison. Even though the child is united with the parent, the problems do not end there. The challenges that come about are both internal and external to rebuild the time that was already lost during incarceration (Jarvis, 2007). At this time, life may become hard as the parent has to look for a job and provision of housing and health care for the child/children.

Since at the time of incarceration the parent was not earning anything, there is usually of a likelihood of existences of debts that may need to be cleared once the parent is out of jail. Other financial needs may include child support arrears, criminal fines and penalties that may need to be paid to the courts.

Children may also face the difficult of re-entry of the prisoner; in this case, it may be stressful. Children may at that time have formed relationship with other parent figures who may be even relatives or other individuals in the society.

At times, these people may be reluctant in allowing rekindling of the relationship which existed between the child and the parent before incarceration. The resultant of this is destabilization of the family, which at this time is time, may be fragile in nature. The threat is even more if the parent in question is among the violent ones, as the child might live with that fear.

Stigma and a feeling of shame also tend to exist among the children whose parents have faced incarceration. People tend to relate the crime the child did to him/her, and tend to treat these children as crime offenders (Harris, 2010). To say the least, these children can only be victims of the crimes the parents were involved in.

Treating these children as criminals is not fair at all to them. In turn, there are even cases where these children feel ashamed of the actions of their parents. The shame may even be more if the child is the victim of the crime committed by the parent. At times, this results to lack of self-esteem of these children and takes a lot of encouragement to regain it.


There are so many challenges that affect children whose parents have been incarcerated. The effect is more if the child was very close to the parent, or if the parent was single. At times, matters of the law come in as the parent is likely to lose the rights he/she has of the child, in case the time of incarceration is long.

Depending on the age of these children, it is important to put into consideration the best interest of the child so that whatever decision is arrived at, it may be aimed at providing the child with the best care available. When the parent is released from jail, the challenges do not end there.

Some children find it hard to deal with their parents due to the fact that they might have grown away from their parents. Since some children may not be in a position to cope with this, it is important to derive a coping mechanism that seeks to make it easy for children whose parents have been incarcerated. It would be therefore necessary to find mentoring programs which aim at ensuring that the children get all the motivation they need in improving the relationship between them and their parents.

Support and encouragement should be also be incorporated in the lives of these children to make sure they are improved from the state they are in. There is also a need to have an adult who believes in the strength of the child in quest to ensure that the child’s self-esteem is maintained. Helping the children cope may also be better if they maintained a relationship with their parents when incarcerated.

There is a need to the connection between the child and the parent for easier re-entry of the parent in the child’s life. It is therefore necessary that since most of the decisions about the children welfare are made in courts, the children are given a family oriented set up.


Christian, S. (2009). Children of Incarcerated Parents. National conference of State legislators. Pp 1-7.

Council of Justice. (2006). Children of Incarcerated Parents. Council on Crime and Justice. Pp 8-16.

Harris, Y. R. (2010). Children of incarcerated parents: theoretical, developmental, and clinical issues. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Jarvis, A. (2007). Children of incarcerated parents: An application of the stress process model. Texas: ProQuest.

Simmons, C. (2000). Children of Incarcerated Parents. California State Library. Sacramento, CA: Carlifornia Research Bureau. Pp 9-13.

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