Children With Incarcerated Parents

Incarceration and Child Welfare
Incarcerated Fathers
Incarcerated Mothers
Kinship Care and Caretaking
Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children (pdf format)

As their numbers grow exponentially, U.S. children with incarcerated parents—and their unique needs—have been gaining increasing attention. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), 2.1 percent of children under age 18 have at least one parent who is incarcerated. In 2000, 2 million children had incarcerated parents, a number double that of what was reported in 1991. However, this does not affect all communities equally. According to DOJ, African American children are nine times more likely than white children to have an incarcerated parent and Latino children are three times more likely than white children to have an incarcerated parent (Mumola, 2000).

Meeting the needs of these children and their non-incarcerated parents as well as addressing parenting and family needs of parents in prison are issues that come to the attention of social workers in multiple fields of practice. This includes those who work in child welfare, mental health, infant and child development, schools, criminal justice, juvenile justice, and health care. These issues are also a concern for policymakers. This Research Page focuses on research, information, and resources that address the needs of children of incarcerated parents and their families.

Growing concerns about the safety, well-being, and health of  children of incarcerated parents led to the inclusion of a provision on the need to mentor children who have a parent in prison as part of the reauthorization of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program Amendments of 2001 (H.R. 2873). This was reauthorized again as part of the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-288). These mentoring programs were perhaps a countermeasure to the effects of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 on children with parents in prison. This legislation created strict timeframes for the length of time children should remain in out-of-home care before termination of parental rights and moving toward adoption. States can exercise some discretion for those children, but the tight timeframes for permanency brought these children’s needs and special situations to the forefront of action.

In recent years, researchers increasingly have focused their efforts on gathering information to more fully understand the well-being and developmental characteristics of children of incarcerated parents, their living situations, and the resources that can assist their families. Some of these children are already in the child welfare system and others come into the system upon incarceration of a parent. For others, there are concerns about the financial well-being and work situations of mothers caring for children while their fathers are in prison. In addition, there are issues related to what happens upon re-entry when the incarcerated parent returns to the community and to his or her family. Increased rates of women in prison also raise greater visibility to the needs of children. Furthermore, issues around prison visitation and in-prison strategies to promote positive parenting need to be addressed. To develop a better understanding of issues and concerns related to incarcerated parents and their children, the DOJ supported a Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners at the Child Welfare League of America from 2001 to 2004. It is now housed with the Family and Corrections Network (

A number of resources and compilations of articles can be helpful to the practitioner or program administrator wanting to better understand this area. Five major resources are listed below:

  • A special issue of the journal Child Welfare (1998, September/October) edited by Cynthia B. Seymour and Creasie Finney Hairston addresses “Children with Parents in Prison.” Articles focus on mothers in prison, permanency, youth development, in-prison family support programs, and strategies to address effective visitation.
  • Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families and Communities, published by the Urban Institute and edited by Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul, is a collection of papers from a January 2002 conference held at the Natcher Center at the National Institutes of Health. Published in 2003, it is available from The book addresses the psychological impact of imprisonment; the deep consequences of mass incarceration on familial relationships in Washington, D.C.; issues of loss; and informal and formal networks that support families in prisons and communities. Links between high rates of incarceration in communities and use of public assistance are identified.
  • The University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare’s Spring 2008 CW 360˚: A Comprehensive Look at a Prevalent Child Welfare Issue publication focuses on “Children of Incarcerated Parents.” The articles in this issue address research and data trends in parental incarceration, shortcomings of child welfare data sources in identifying this population’s needs, impact of incarceration on foster care caseloads, and issues related to the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The publication also describes model programs including cross-system collaborations and provides an extensive bibliography and resource listing. It is available at
  • The Welfare Peer Technical Assistance Network, supported by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Assistance, hosted a roundtable meeting in 2003 titled “Bringing Hope to Children of Incarcerated Parents.”The report of the same name covers best practices and program models and summarizes challenges of strengthening families separated by parental incarceration. It is available at
  • “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children” was the subject of an August 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Special Report by Christopher Mumola. Mumola analyzed the 1997 “Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities” to examine information about the parenting status of prisoners. It is one of several special BJS reports on this major survey. The other topics reported from the survey include substance abuse and treatment, mental health, women and juvenile offenders, and inmates’ military service. The report related to incarcerated parents and their children can be accessed at

The Children’s Bureau’s clearinghouse, the Child Welfare Information Gateway (, identifies a number of helpful research articles when searching using the word “prisoner.” A search of Social Work Abstracts using the terms “incarceration,” “children & prison,” and “child welfare & prison” also yields a number of articles relating to incarcerated parents and their children. A selection of these articles from 2000 to 2008 are cited below. The articles are categorized by those that provide an overview of the issues; those that relate specifically to foster children, fathers, and mothers, those that focus on kinship care, and those that test intervention models.


Arditti, J. A., Lambert-Shute, J., & Joest, K. (2003). Saturday morning at the jail:
Implications of incarceration for families and children. Family Relations, 52(3), 195-204. Summarized in DATA TRENDS: January, 2004, No. 91, available from the Research and Training Center for Family Support and Children’s Mental Health,Portland State University, at

This study used semistructured interviews to gather information over a 10-week period from 56 caregivers who were bringing minor children to visit their fathers or mothers in jail for a 20-minute Saturday morning visit. Most of the respondents were women and had lived with the incarcerated male prior to incarceration. Results indicate that even though many of these families were already poor, they were even worse off financially during the incarceration. More than 80 percent of the participants indicated that the incarceration also created significant problems for the family including emotional stress, declining health, work/family stress, and regression in children’s behavior. The authors conclude that the impact of incarceration extends to the family and that there are links between crime, poverty, social inequalities, and family life that should be addressed through family supports and policy development.

Hughes, M.J., & Harrison-Thompson, J. (2002). Prison parenting programs: A national survey. The Social Policy Journal, 1(1), 57-74.

Estimates suggest that parents make up a large segment of the prison population in the United Sates, and parental incarceration affects the whole family. For children of incarcerated parents, separation is painful and can be detrimental to their development. Effective parenting programs in prisons can be beneficial to the incarcerated parents, their children, and society. This study surveyed 745 state prisons to gather data on their parent populations and their prison parenting programs. Findings indicate significant differences by gender of prison population and program structures.

Johnston, D. (2004). Transition issues for children of incarcerated parents. The Source, 13(2), 17-20. (Available from the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center at

Noting that about 40 percent of children of male offenders and about 20 percent of children of female offenders have never lived with their parents even when they were not incarcerated, this article suggests that issues of attachment and parent-child bonding need further attention. In many instances, the parent-child separation occurs because of substance abuse and not the incarceration. The author provides useful findings from research about the impact of a child witnessing the arrest of a parent as well as the effects of “forced” (p. 18) separation due to imprisonment. The article recommends strategies to keep children and parents engaged and provides some additional resources.
Kazura, K. (2001). Family programming for incarcerated parents: A needs assessment among inmates. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 32, 67-83.

This study was undertaken to investigate the needs, as perceived by the offenders, of families with incarcerated individuals. The aim of the research was to determine inmates’ family and parenting issues and concerns and to assess their interest in formal and informal family services. Respondents were 136 inmates (99 male, 37 female) who ranged in age from 18 to 49. Inmates requested information about child rearing, better visitation for their children, and help with issues of trust and communication. The results demonstrate that male and female inmates have differing concerns. However, both incarcerated mothers and fathers seem to value their parental identity and family commitments.

Kenemore, T.K., & Roldan, I. (2006). Staying straight: Lessons from ex-offenders. Clinical Social Work Journal, 34(1), 5-21.

This article reports findings of a qualitative study of the experiences of ex-offenders. Incarceration and release from prison create a particularly challenging set of experiences for individuals and families seeking help with social, emotional, and psychological problems and present significant barriers to understanding for the practitioner. The study posed the broad question: What is the experience of ex-offenders? The authors presumed that the provision of effective treatment services for ex-offenders would require that they first be empathically understood in depth and in all their complexity. Intensive study of 12 subjects produced findings illustrating the subjects’ unique experiences of external and internal challenges. Practice implications are discussed with the aim of helping clinicians understand and work with this underserved and vulnerable population more effectively.

Miller, K.M. (2006). The impact of parental incarceration on children: An emerging need for effective interventions. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23(4), 472-486.

The increasing number of children with incarcerated parents constitutes perhaps one of the largest at-risk populations in the United States. Short- and long-term effects of parental incarceration are difficult to quantify; however, the current literature indicates that this population is negatively responding to major shifts in family structure and is vulnerable to economic stress and adverse interpersonal issues. Service providers are seeking appropriate intervention strategies to address the resultant issues of parental incarceration. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research on effective practice methods. This article reviews the literature on the potential impact parental incarceration has on children and discusses service providers’ concerted efforts to lessen the consequences. It also provides recommendations for appropriate data collection and identification of relevant gender, developmental, and cultural interventions.

Smith, C.J., & Young, D.S. (2003). The multiple impacts of TANF, ASFA, and mandatory drug sentencing for families affected by maternal incarceration. Children and Youth Services Review, 25(7), 535-552.

The number of children left behind when mothers are incarcerated continues to grow. Relatives are pressed into service to provide for the permanency, safety, and well-being of children. This article analyzes the impact of mandatory sentencing policies for nonviolent drug offenses, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare reform legislation of 1996 on women and their families. The article explores combined implications of these policies for families and offers policy recommendations emphasizing social justice.

Incarceration and Child Welfare

Hayward, R. A., & DePanfilis, D. (2007). Foster children with an incarcerated parent: Predictors of reunification. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(10), 1320-1334.

Compared to other children receiving child welfare services, children with incarcerated parents have needs that are not easily met. When placed in foster care, they also may be less likely to achieve permanency through reunification. Prior research has not identified under which circumstances these children are more or less likely to reunify with a family member. Using administrative data from the Adoption and Foster Care Administrative Reporting System (AFCARS), this article explores whether factors that predict reunification for children in foster care (e.g., child age, race, mental health, disability, family structure, placement history) also predict reunification for children who have at least one incarcerated parent (n = 40,751). Use of logistic regression suggested that school-aged children and children with behavioral or substance abuse problems were more likely to reunify. In contrast, controlling for the impact of other variables in the model, the following factors significantly decreased the likelihood of reunification for children with at least one incarcerated parent: kinship foster care placement, African American ethnicity, age under 2 years, child disability, housing problems, single-parent family structure, and placement history. The article discusses practice and policy implications related to children of incarcerated parents in out-of-home care.

Johnson, E.I., & Waldfogel, J. (2002). Parental incarceration: Recent trends and implications for child welfare. Social Service Review, 76(3), 460-479.

Using national survey data, they analyzed 11-year trends in parental incarceration. Results indicate that children with incarcerated parents have become an increasingly large share of the foster care population since the mid-1980s and a notable share of U.S. children living with grandparent caregivers. Findings underscore the need to develop and implement specific child welfare and criminal justice policies for serving these families. (Journal abstract)

Moses, M.C. (November, 2006). Does parental incarceration increase a child’s risk for foster care placement? NIJ Journal, 255. (Available from the National Institute of Justice at

An ongoing National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study of Illinois data finds that a little more than one-quarter of incarcerated mothers in the study had a child in foster care and that three-quarters of these children came into care prior to the mother’s incarceration rather than at the time of incarceration. These findings are contrary to the conventional wisdom that children come into care directly as a result of incarceration.

Pecora, P.J., Kessler, R.C., Williams, J., O’Brien, K., Downs, A.C., English, D., et al. (2005). Improving Family Foster Care: Findings From the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs. (Available at

Casey Family Programs carried out a study of children who had been in the foster care system. The study gathered information from 659 foster care alumni who were in the child welfare system between 1988 and 1998 and looked at, among other things, risk factors related to entry into placement. Of the foster care alumni in the study, 35 percent had a mother and 36.7 percent had a father with a criminal past.

Incarcerated Fathers

Arditti, J.A. (2005). Families and incarceration: An ecological approach. Families in Society, 86(2), 251-260.

This article advances an ecological framework that emphasizes the context of parental incarceration and its impact on families and children. Particular attention is given to the disenfranchisement resulting from a family member’s imprisonment, loss, and the experience of family visiting in corrections settings. Drawing from Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) systemic approach to understanding development, the framework provides a basis from which to interpret existing scholarship as well as guide ecologically sensitive practice and policy.

LaRosa, J.J., & Rank, M.G. (2001). Parenting education and incarcerated fathers.  Journal of Family Social Work, 6(3), 15-33.

Incarcerated fathers or men in the role of father or surrogate father in the US [sic] are approaching rates that could be considered epidemic in proportion. Children are adversely affected by the absence of fathers. Some authors, researchers, and the government view fathers as insignificant, citing that the father-child relationship is often relegated and perceived as a secondary role in the family. As a result, parenting classes for incarcerated fathers have not been considered as a viable intervention to effect attitudinal change for these men. This study explores the efficacy of programmed parenting interventions for incarcerated men. (Journal abstract, edited.)

Lewis, C.E., Jr., Garfinkel, I., & Gao, Q. (2007). Incarceration and unwed fathers in fragile families. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 34(3), 77-94.

Criminal justice policies have resulted in millions of Americans being incarcerated over the past three decades in systems that provide little or no rehabilitation. This study uses a new dataset – The Fragile Families Study—to document poor labor market outcomes that are associated with incarceration. The authors found that fathers who had been incarcerated earned 28 percent less annually than fathers who were never incarcerated. These previously incarcerated fathers worked fewer weeks per year, fewer hours per week and were less likely to be working during the week prior to their interview. They also found that fathers who had been incarcerated were more likely to depend on underground employment and off-the-books earnings. (Journal abstract)

Mendez, G.A. (2000). Incarcerated African American men and their children: A case study. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 569, 86-101.

Many studies have been directed toward incarcerated women and their responsibilities in raising their children despite their incarceration. This same concern has not been forthcoming in the case of incarcerated men and parenting programs or other responsibility programs for them. Male responsibility programs have, for the most part, not included incarcerated men, a large and growing segment of the population. It has been suggested that incarcerated men have no interest in their children and that, in fact, they have been and continue to be bad fathers. This article reports on a study that was conducted by the National Trust for the Development of African-American Men to try to determine the attitudes of incarcerated men toward fatherhood while they are incarcerated. The study found that incarcerated men were interested in improving their relationships with their children and families and that they would be willing to participate in a program that would help them do so. (Journal abstract)

Nurse, A. M. (2002). Fatherhood Arrested: Parenting From Within the Juvenile Justice System. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

This study examined the issues of fathering from prison, young fathers as parolees, and the impact of imprisonment on later father involvement through observation of parenting classes for paroled fathers, surveys of paroled fathers, in-depth interviews with paroled fathers, and participant observation during prison visiting hours. The findings reveal that visiting policies for juvenile detention facilities are more restrictive than those for adult prisons. Although the policies are necessary for security and punishment, they provide obstacles to contact between fathers and their children. Transportation, visitors’ lists, dress codes, and placement policies interfere with family relationships. Other barriers are related to the fathers’ coping responses to the prison environment and their feelings of shame. After release from prison, men have trouble establishing relationships with their children as they find that their children do not recognize them or that the mothers of their children have new partners. In addition, the ability of parolees to support their families financially is affected by the limited employment options available to former offenders. The study recommends several policies that will nurture the relationships between incarcerated fathers and their children, such as providing parenting classes in prison, facilitating visits from children, establishing child-friendly visiting hours, placing fathers in a separate area within the prison so they can form support networks, and strengthening fathers’ legal rights.

O’Connell, W.P. (2005). Families of incarcerated male alcohol and drug offenders: A multisystemic study. Journal of Family Social Work, 2(2), 1-23.

There has been little empirical research regarding the needs of family members of incarcerated male alcohol and drug offenders. This study surveyed the perceptions of 85 family members using FACES II, Quality of Life, and Quality of Counseling Services instruments. Statistically significant results yielded a relationship between significant others with a low quality of life and an interest in counseling services. The findings from this exploratory study, coupled with previous research linking the needs of family members to the quality of interaction with the multiple systems in which they interact, substantiate the value of counseling interventions for significant others and other family members related to offenders. (Journal abstract)

Shannon, S.K.S., & Abrams, L.S. (2007). Juvenile offenders as fathers: Perceptions of fatherhood, crime, and becoming an adult. Families in Society, 88(2), 183-191.

The confluence of high teen parenthood and incarceration rates for ethnic minority youth warrant investigations into the relationship between parental bonds and desistence from crime. Empirical studies present conflicting findings regarding how, or whether, fatherhood correlates with youth offenders’ decreased criminal activity. Through in-depth interviews with seven incarcerated teen fathers, this study provides insight into their views of their responsibilities toward their children, relationships with their children’s mothers, and prospects for future criminal activity. Results show that incarcerated young fathers take parental roles seriously and identify their children as principal motivators for desistence from crime. However, these fathers also articulate substantial obstacles to connecting with their children, including pressure to provide financially. Implications for social work practice are discussed.

Incarcerated Mothers

D’Arlach, L., Curtis, C.E., Ferrari, J.R., Olson, B.D., & Jason, L.A. (2006). Substance-abusing women and their children: A cost-effective treatment option to incarceration. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 6(4), 71-90.

Low-level drug offenses are presently the top reason women are sent to jail. Because more than 70 percent of these incarcerated women are the primary caretakers of children, incarceration has resulted in a sharp rise in foster care demand. Research suggests that incarcerated women who remain with their children are more likely to enter and complete treatment. This article reviews the effects of incarceration and the available treatment options for substance-abusing women with children. A self-supported, self-run, alternative treatment model known as Oxford House is suggested as an option for women with children to gain financial and emotional stability.
Hagen, K.A., & Myers, B.J. (2003). The effect of secrecy and social support on behavioral problems in children of incarcerated women. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 12(2), 229-242.

The authors investigated the effects of secrecy regarding mothers’ incarceration and social support on behavioral problems in a group of 116 children ages 6 to 13 years. Children with low levels of social support had more externalizing and internalizing problems, and children who had experienced more life stressors reported more internalizing problems. Significant interactions indicated that both externalizing and internalizing problem scores were higher for children whose social support was poor and secrecy scores were low. Findings suggest that for children already suffering from little or no support from key people, having few or no constraints regarding talking about mothers’ incarceration placed them at risk for developing behavioral problems. Explanations for the findings and implications for caregivers are discussed.

Hanlon, T.E., Blatchley, R.J., Bennett-Sears, T., O’Grady, K.E., Rose, M., & Callaman, J.M. (2005). Vulnerability of children of incarcerated addict mothers: Implications for preventive intervention. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(1), 67-84.

This is a preliminary report on the characteristics, experiences, and behavior of 88 primarily African American adolescent children of incarcerated urban mothers who struggle with addiction. It examines the association of age, gender, and risk factor profiles with the children’s adjustment status defined in terms of self-reported questionnaire information and selected personality/behavioral assessment inventories. In spite of the existence of adverse circumstances in their lives, including the incarceration of their substance-abusing mothers, results revealed that the majority of these children were neither especially deviant nor maladjusted, all but a small percentage having successfully avoided substance abuse and the adoption of a deviant lifestyle at this point in their development. In most cases, mother surrogates (usually a grandmother or other family member) had for many years functioned as primary caregivers of the children prior to the incarceration of their birth mothers, which may have attenuated the negative impact ordinarily associated with a mother’s absence from the home. However, there was a general indication of problematic school behavior and vulnerability to deviant peer influences that should be addressed in efforts aimed at preventing the escalation of deviant activity in such children. Also, in almost all cases, there was a readily observable need for the provision of caseworker support services for the caregivers of the children.

Kubiak, S.P., Young, A., Siefert, K., & Stewart, A. (2004). Pregnant, substance-abusing, and incarcerated: Exploratory study of a comprehensive approach to treatment. Families in Society, 85(2), 177-186.

Interventions addressing the multiple needs of incarcerated women are rare. In this study, several measures were used to assess functional changes among pregnant, substance-dependent, incarcerated women transferred to a community-based residential treatment program that allowed their infants to reside with them. Women engaged in comprehensive therapeutic and skill-building activities for six to nine months. The program’s goal was to assist women in childbirth and in the continuing relationships with their children while improving psychological and social functioning. Examination of changes were limited to those who completed treatment and all measures (N = 27). Although significant improvements were noted, nearly half were discharged with symptoms indicative of a depressive disorder. Assessment of long-term outcomes comparing this group with pregnant women who remained in prison is under way.

Lawrence-Wills, S. (2004). Incarcerated mothers’ reports of their daughters’ antisocial behavior, maternal supervision and mother-daughter relationship. Journal of Family Social Work, 8(3), 55-73.

This study examines the extent of delinquency and antisocial behavior among adolescent daughters of incarcerated mothers and the influence of the mother-daughter relationship and maternal supervision on daughters’ participation in delinquency and antisocial behavior. One hundred and one [sic] incarcerated mothers completed survey questionnaires that asked about their daughters’ participation and involvement in antisocial and delinquent behavior and the nature of both mother-daughter relationship and maternal supervision. Overall, mothers reported low levels of involvement in antisocial or delinquent behavior for their daughters. Participation in antisocial behavior was inversely related to positive mother-daughter relationship. Maternal supervision was not related to level of participation in antisocial or delinquent behavior. (Journal abstract)

Loper, A.B. (2006). How do mothers in prison differ from non-mothers? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 15(1), 83-95.

Adjustment patterns and criminal characteristics of 350 incarcerated mothers of children under 21 years of age were contrasted to those of 166 women from the same institution that had never had children. There were no observed differences between mothers and non-mothers in terms of self-reported mental illness symptoms, emotional distress, or conflict with other individuals at the prison. There were also no differences in terms of institutional infractions observed by prison officials. Consistent with previous research with the same sample, there were adjustment differences between mothers reporting high versus low levels of parenting stress, but neither group of mothers evidenced different adjustment patterns relative to non-mothers. However, there were differences in criminal characteristics. Mothers were more likely than non-mothers to be incarcerated for property or drug offenses, and were more likely to have at least one current or previous drug offense in their criminal history. Non-mothers were more likely than mothers to be incarcerated for violent offenses, including homicide. Results indicated that although there are differences between mothers and non-mothers in the contexts associated with criminal behavior, both groups show the same range of adjustment problems once in prison. (Journal abstract)

Poehlmann, J. (2005). Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers. Child Development, 76, 679-696.

Representations of attachment relationships were assessed in 54 children ages 2.5 to 7.5 years whose mothers were incarcerated at the time of the study. Consistent with their high-risk status, most (63%) children were classified as having insecure relationships with mothers and caregivers. Secure relationships were more likely when children lived in a stable caregiving situation, when children reacted to separation from the mother with sadness rather than anger, and when children were older. Common reactions to initial separation included sadness, worry, confusion, anger, loneliness, sleep problems, and developmental regressions. Results highlight the need for support in families affected by maternal imprisonment, especially efforts to promote stable, continuous placements for children. The article also underscores the importance of longitudinal research with this growing but understudied group.

Wills, S.K. (2002). Social connections and delinquency: Adolescent girls whose mothers are incarcerated. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Chicago.

This dissertation examines the extent of delinquency and antisocial behavior among adolescent daughters of incarcerated mothers, the nature of their family, school, and community connections, and the relationship between daughters’ social connections and their participation in delinquent and antisocial behavior. A total of 101 incarcerated mothers volunteered to participate and completed survey questionnaires designed specifically for the study. Data from 99 questionnaires were included in the data analysis. Findings revealed that higher levels of school connections, community connections, and school attendance were significantly associated with delinquency. Higher levels of family connections, as measured by the Mother-Daughter Relationship Index, school connections, and school attendance were significantly associated with low levels of participation in antisocial behavior. Family connections, as measured by the Mother-Daughter Relationship Index, were not related to delinquency. Family connections, measured by the Maternal Supervision Index, were not related to levels of participation in antisocial behavior or delinquency.

Kinship Care and Caretaking

Hanlon, T.E., Carswell, S.B., & Rose, M. (2007). Research on the caretaking of children of incarcerated parents: Findings and their service delivery implications. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(3), 348-362.

This article reviews research findings on caretaking-related problems associated with the absence of parents from the home following incarceration. It focuses on the impact of incarceration on the welfare and adjustment of urban African American children and on the assumption of caretaking responsibilities by other caretakers, principally maternal grandmothers. Noting the complex situational difficulties involved, the potential burdens associated with surrogate parenting, and the population studied, this article considers the service-provider implications of this parenting arrangement. Findings indicate that problems associated with incarceration of parents tend to be intergenerational and vary considerably in complexity and severity. To the extent that they impact the children involved, these issues should be addressed in coordinated service delivery focusing on prevention.

Okagbue-Reaves, J. (2005). Kinship care: Analysis of the health and well-being of grandfathers raising grandchildren using the Grandparent Assessment Tool and the Medical Outcomes Trust SF-36 TM Health Survey. Journal of Family Social Work, 9(2), 47-66.

As more and more children are being separated from their biological parents because of AIDS, substance abuse, mental and physical illness, incarceration, and child abuse and neglect, child welfare agencies are relying more often on kinship care as a viable option for out-of-home placements. In many cases, kinship care falls on the grandparents. While keeping children within their families is generally viewed as preferable by child welfare agencies, it can be a burden on grandparent caregivers, who often exist on severely limited incomes and without much assistance or support from social service agencies. A research project was conducted which used both quantitative and qualitative data from research conducted by Jones and Gibbons (2000) on grandparent care, but this study focuses on the experiences of grandfathers who participated in the project and examines their outcomes in several different areas.  (Journal abstract)

Ruiz, D.S. (2002). The increase in incarcerations among women and its impact on the grandmother caregiver: Some racial considerations. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 29(3), 179-197.

This article analyzes census data on the increase in incarcerations among women, with specific emphasis on some racial differences. The steady rise in female incarcerations and its impact on grandmothers who are caregivers of their children is the focus of this analysis. The article includes sociodemographic and health characteristics of imprisoned mothers, a review of relevant research, the impact of incarcerations on family caregivers, and implications for research. The rate of female incarceration has increased by eleven percent per year since 1985. A disproportionately higher number are women of color. Approximately fifty-three percent of the children whose mothers are imprisoned are cared for by grandmothers. The rapid increase in the female incarceration rate suggests the need for additional research on the social, economic, and health impact of this phenomenon on family caregivers, especially grandmothers.  (Journal abstract)

Smith, A., Krisman, K., Strozier, A.L., & Marley, M.A. (2004). Breaking through the bars: Exploring the experiences of addicted incarcerated parents whose children are cared for by relatives. Families in Society, 85(2), 187-195.

Researchers conducted a series of open-ended, semistructured interviews with 25 incarcerated men and women who received substance abuse treatment while their children were being cared for by relatives. Research questions were developed on the basis of the gaps in knowledge identified in the available data on addicted incarcerated parents whose children are in kinship care. Respondents in this study were asked questions designed to explore issues such as parent-child bonding, relationships with caregivers, and the impact of drug abuse and incarceration on the family. Results of this study indicate that there is a need for a multidisciplinary, wraparound approach to designing services for affected parents, children, and caregivers.

Waldrop, D.P. (2003). Caregiving issues for grandmothers raising their grandchildren.
Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 7(3/4), 201-223.

Increasing numbers of middle aged and older adults are raising their grandchildren as a result of complex family problems, and a majority of these caregivers are women. Precipitating problems such as drug abuse, child neglect, and parental incarceration are difficult social problems that cause unique caregiving problems for grandparents who step in to stabilize a chaotic family situation. In-depth interviews were conducted with 37 women who were raising grandchildren. Results indicated that grandmothers who raise their grandchildren experience both burdens and benefits from their roles as family caregivers. Increased understanding about the special needs and problems of this group of family caregivers will enhance practice problems of this group of family caregivers and will enhance practice effectiveness with these multigenerational families.

Family-Focused Interventions

Springer, D.W., Lynch, C., & Rubin, A. (2000). Effects of a solution-focused mutual aid group for Hispanic children of incarcerated parents. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17(6), 431-442.

Children of incarcerated parents are five to six times more likely to go to prison than their peers (Johnston, 1995). Yet, there is a lacuna in the literature that examines the effectiveness of interventions for children with an incarcerated family member. The purpose of this study is to describe a solution-focused, mutual aid group intervention and to examine the effects of the group on the self-esteem of elementary-age Hispanic children of incarcerated parents when compared to a no-treatment comparison group. Implications for social work practice and research with this vulnerable population are addressed.  (Journal abstract)


Mumola, C. (2000, August). Bureau of Justice Statistics special report: Incarcerated parents and their children. Retrieved June 24, 2008, from
Seymour, D. & Finney-Hairston, C. (1998). Special Issue – Children with Parents in Prison. Child Welfare (77), 5.

Additional Resources

(This information was excerpted from
The following national organizations provide resources that may be useful.

American Correctional Association ACA is a multidisciplinary organization of professionals who represent all aspects of corrections and criminal justice, including federal, state, and military correctional facilities and prisons; county jails and detention centers; probation/parole agencies; and community corrections/halfway houses.
Web site:

American Probation and Parole Association The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) explores issues relevant to the field of community-based corrections. APPA is an international association of members from the United States, its Territories, and Canada who are involved with probation, parole, and community-based corrections in both adult and juvenile sectors at all levels of government.
Web site:

The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents (CCIP) documents and develops model services for children of criminal offenders and their families. CCIP seeks to prevent intergenerational crime and incarceration through activities in four component areas: education, family reunification, therapeutic services, and information.
Web site:

The Family and Corrections Network Since 1983 Family and Corrections Network has provided ways for those concerned with families of prisoners to share information and experiences in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We have done this through publishing, sponsoring conferences, liaison with other agencies, presentations, and consultation. We have published information on children of prisoners, parenting programs for prisoners, prison visiting, incarcerated fathers, hospitality programs and a variety of other topics. Our mission is to uphold the value of families of prisoners.
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GAINS Center for People with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Justice System The GAINS Center is a national technology transfer organization for dually diagnosed criminal justice populations. The project gives technical assistance to justice systems that try to improve intervention by targeting mental health disorders and addictions.

Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy The goals of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy are to understand, assess, prevent, and manage violence in society; to promote human rights by developing and strengthening the ethical and legal foundations of the rights of persons who have or are perceived to have mental illnesses and disabilities; to improve law and policy by developing and shaping laws and public policies related to mental health and human development; and to provide better information to civil and criminal courts by improving the capacity of mental health disciplines to give reliable clinical and scientific information to courts that will help them make informed decisions.
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Justice Research and Statistics Association The Justice Research and Statistics Association is a national organization of State Statistical Analysis Center directors, analysts, researchers, and practitioners.
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National Commission on Correctional Health Care The National Commission on Correctional Health Care’s mission is to improve the quality of health care provided in jails, prisons, and juvenile confinement facilities.
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National Juvenile Detention Association The National Juvenile Detention Association exists exclusively to advance the science, processes, and art of juvenile detention services through the overall improvement of the juvenile justice profession.
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National Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities National Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities is a membership organization representing individuals and programs dedicated to the professional delivery of treatment and case management services to substance abusing populations.
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Newman’s Own Newman’s Own provides grant opportunities that can be applicable to nonprofit community and faith-based organizations addressing reentry. Eligible charities must be U.S. organizations with an IRS 501(c)(3) designation. Schools, hospitals, and other public institutions are also eligible.
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Offender Preparation & Education Network, Inc. (OPEN, INC.) OPEN, INC., a small, nonprofit organization founded in Dallas, TX, in 1979, develops educational materials and programs that are used by correctional agencies to help offenders prepare to live as law-abiding citizens.
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Time Dollar Institute. Time Dollars are a new, tax-exempt kind of money. People can convert their personal time into purchasing power by helping others and by rebuilding family, neighborhood, and community. An hour spent helping another earns one Time Dollar.
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United States Parole Commission The United States Parole Commission promotes public safety by exercising its authority regarding the release and supervision of criminal offenders under its jurisdiction in a way that advances justice.
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Vera Institute of Justice Vera pioneers development of unexpected, yet practical and affordable, solutions to some of the toughest problems in criminal justice to make the system more fair, humane, and efficient.
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Volunteers of America Volunteers of America’s corrections services help inmates and offenders rebuild their lives. The services provide the tools ex-offenders need to rejoin mainstream society, make positive contributions, and avoid future incarceration.
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June 21st, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Posted in Research

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