Saturday, March 22, 2014

Effects of Parental Incarceration on Young Children

For imprisoned mothers, one of the greatest punishments incarceration carries with it is separation from their children. As one mother put it, "I can do time alone OK. But its not knowing what's happening to my son that hurts most" (Baunach, 1988, p. 121, cited in Garcia Coll et al., 1998). As this quote suggests, when parents are incarcerated, "what's happening" to their children is a great concern. It is a concern for us as well. Our goal in this paper is to examine the impact of parental incarceration on children's well-being and development, to determine just what is happening to these children.

Several assumptions guided our examination of this problem. First, we assumed that the child is located in a family system and to understand the impact of incarceration on the child, the network of relationships within the family system needed to be considered (Belsky, 1984; Sameroff, 1994). Second, we assumed that the developmental level of the child at the time of parental incarceration and the quality of the relationship the child had developed with the incarcerated parent needed to be considered (Bowlby, 1973).

Third, the gender of the incarcerated parent was examined, because separation from mother may affect children differently from separation from father (Parke, 2001) Fourth,characteristics of the extended kin network in which the family of the incarcerated parent is located were considered (Cochran & Brassard, 1979). Finally, the nature and availability of formal institutional supports for the family of the incarcerated parent were given attention (Bronfenbrenner& Morris, 1998).

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