Primary Sources: Strengthening Families to Help Young People Overcome the Effects of Parental Incarceration

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Photograph of an incarcerated woman.

"Parental Incarceration and Multiple Risk Experiences: Effects on Family Dynamics and Children’s Delinquency" (abstract), Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 39 No. 12, December 2010.

What it's about: Are young people who have a parent in prison more likely than their peers to land in prison? That's what some research has found, but this new study paints a more complex picture. 

Why read it: This is one of only a few studies to look at having a parent in prison as part of a bigger picture of problems families face. It also examines how the experience of having a parent in prison affects young people differently at different ages. The authors surveyed 10- to 14-year-olds with a parent in prison, and checked in with them again two years later. The study took into account whether the young people had unemployed or drug-abusing parents, as well as whether they had siblings who got into trouble.

Biggest take aways for youth workers: The authors of this study point to extreme family conflict, which often comes along with having an imprisoned family member, as a possible reason why children of prisoners often get into trouble. All of the young people in the study were more likely than their peers to live with high levels of family conflict. But teens felt even more tension and stress than did preteens. Helping families to interact in healthier ways during times of intense stress may buffer young people, the authors say. They call for programs that improve relationships among family members and foster communication between children’s families and their teachers.  

Additional references: The youth in this study were enrolled in the Children at Risk Program (PDF; 75 KB), at five different sites across the country. Children at Risk aimed to prevent drug use and other problems among youth in distressed urban neighborhoods. They authors of the study also highlight Families and Schools Together, an evidence-based program in which families attend weekly support groups, participate in activities and meet regularly with their children’s teachers.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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