Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 10, pp 2891–2900 | Cite as

Effects of Paternal Incarceration on Father Involvement on Child Behavior Outcomes at Middle Childhood

  • Jamel SlaughterEmail author
  • Jaya B. Davis
  • Craig Nagoshi
Original Paper



This study tested the separate and combined effects of father involvement and paternal incarceration on child internalizing and externalizing behaviors at 9 years of age.


Our sample contains completed interviews of 2652 fathers, 3515 mothers, and 3377 children. The mean age of fathers was 28 at child age 9. Multiple regression analysis of secondary data was conducted from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national study that followed a cohort of low-income married and unmarried parents and their young children living in 20 US cities.


Higher socioeconomic status and greater father involvement were associated with lower child internalizing and externalizing behaviors, while paternal incarceration for property crimes was associated with greater externalizing in boys and internalizing in girls. Incarceration for drug crimes was associated with lower father involvement.


Multiple regression analyses confirmed the independent effects of father involvement on child internalizing and externalizing, but the incarceration for property crimes effects were attenuated and moderated by SES.


Externalizing behaviors Father involvement Internalizing behaviors Middle childhood Paternal incarceration 



Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Author Contributions

J.S. designed and executed the study, assisted with the data analyses, and wrote the paper. J.B.D. collaborated with the design and writing of the study. C.N. analyzed the data and wrote the results. J.S., C.N., and J.B.D. collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


  1. Aaron, L., & Dallaire, D. H. (2009). Parental incarceration and multiple risk experiences: effects on family dynamics and children’s delinquency. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(12), 1471–1484. Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles (4). Retrieved from Research Center for Children, Youth & Families, University of Vermont website:
  3. Adler, N. E., & Snibbe, A. C. (2003). The role of psychosocial processes in explaining the gradient between socioeconomic status and health. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(4), 119–123. Scholar
  4. Ahmeduzzaman, M., & Roopnarine, J. L. (1992). Sociodemographic factors, functioning style, social support, and fathers’ involvement with preschoolers in African American families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54(3), 699. Scholar
  5. Amato, P. R., & Rivera, F. (1999). Paternal involvement and children’s behavior problems. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(2), 375. Scholar
  6. Arditti, J., Smock, S., & Parkman, T. (2005). “It’s been hard to be a father”: a qualitative exploration of incarcerated fatherhood. Fathering A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 3(3), 267–288. Scholar
  7. Argys, L. M., & Peters, H. E. (2001). Interactions between unmarried fathers and their children: the role of paternity establishment and child-support policies. American Economic Review, 91(2), 125–129. Scholar
  8. Bronte-Tinkew, J., Moore, K. A., & Carrano, J. (2006). The father-child relationship, parenting styles, and adolescent risk behaviors in intact families. Journal of Family Issues, 27(6), 850–881. Scholar
  9. Brutus, S., Aguinis, H., & Wassmer, U. (2012). Self-reported limitations and future directions in scholarly reports. Journal of Management, 39(1), 48–75. Scholar
  10. Burt, K. B., Obradović, J., Long, J. D., & Masten, A. S. (2008). The interplay of social competence and psychopathology over 20 years: testing transactional and cascade models. Child Development, 79(2), 359–374. Scholar
  11. Cabrera, N., Fitzgerald, H. E., Bradley, R. H., & Roggman, L. (2007). Modeling the dynamics of paternal influences on children over the life course. Applied Developmental Science, 11(4), 185–189. Scholar
  12. Cabrera, N. J., Fitzgerald, H. E., Bradley, R. H., & Roggman, L. (2014). The ecology of father-child relationships: an expanded model. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 6(4), 336–354. Scholar
  13. Carlson, M. J. (2006). Family structure, father involvement, and adolescent behavioral outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(1), 137–154. Scholar
  14. Chang, J. J., Halpern, C. T., & Kaufman, J. S. (2007). Maternal depressive symptoms, father’s involvement, and the trajectories of child problem behaviors in a U.S. national sample. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 161(7), 697. Scholar
  15. Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. (2011). Data for the nine-year follow-up wave of the fragile families and child wellbeing study. Princeton University Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. Accessed 1 Feb 2015.
  16. Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status, family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 685–704. Scholar
  17. Copeland, W. E., Shanahan, L., Costello, E. J., & Angold, A. (2009). Childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders as predictors of young adult disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(7), 764 Scholar
  18. Craigie, T. L. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on early child behavioral problems: a racial comparison. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 9(3), 179–199. Scholar
  19. Dallaire, D. H., & Wilson, L. C. (2009). The relation of exposure to parental criminal activity, arrest, and sentencing to children’s maladjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(4), 404–418. Scholar
  20. Day, R., Acock, A., Bahr, S., & Arditti, J. (2005). Incarcerated fathers returning home to children and families: introduction to the special issue and a primer on doing research with men in prison. Fathering A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 3(3), 183–200. Scholar
  21. Dooley, M., & Stewart, J. (2006). Family income, parenting styles and child behavioural-emotional outcomes. Health Economics, 16(2), 145–162. Scholar
  22. Egeland, B., Jacobvitz, D., & Sroufe, L. A. (1988). Breaking the cycle of abuse. Child Development, 59(4), 1080. Scholar
  23. Flouri, E. (2005). Fathering and child outcome. 8th ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.10.1002/978047071322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Flouri, E., & Buchanan, A. (2002). Life satisfaction in teenage boys: the moderating role of father involvement and bullying. Aggressive Behavior, 28(2), 126–133. Scholar
  25. Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2013). Maternal and paternal imprisonment in the stress process. Social Science Research, 42(3), 650–669. Scholar
  26. Geller, A., Cooper, C. E., Garfinkel, I., Schwartz-Soicher, O., & Mincy, R. B. (2011). Beyond absenteeism: father incarceration and child development. Demography, 49(1), 49–76. Scholar
  27. Geller, A., Garfinkel, I., Cooper, C. E., & Mincy, R. B. (2009). Parental incarceration and child well-being: implications for urban families. Social Science Quarterly, 90(5), 1186–1202. Scholar
  28. Glaze, L. E., & Maruschak, L. M. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children (NCJ 222984). Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice. Washington, D.C.
  29. Hairston, C. F. (1995). Fathers in prison. In K. E. Gabel & D. E. Johnston (Eds), Children of incarcerated parents (pp. 31–40). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  30. Hairston, C. F. (2007). Focus on children with incarcerated parents: an overview of the research literature. Annie E. Casey Foundation. Baltimore, MD.
  31. Hairston, C. F., & Hess, P. M. (1989). Family ties: maintaining child-parent bonds is important. Corrections Today, 51(2), 102–106.
  32. Hay, D. F., Payne, A., & Chadwick, A. (2004). Peer relations in childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(1), 84–108. Scholar
  33. Howard, K. S., Lefever, J. E., Borkowski, J. G., & Whitman, T. L. (2006). Fathers’ influence in the lives of children with adolescent mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(3), 468–476. Scholar
  34. Kaiser, T. (2016). Socioeconomic status, parenting and conscientiousness: the unequal development of children’s focus. Journal of Family Studies, 23(1), 62–85. Scholar
  35. King, V., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2006). Nonresident fathers’ contributions to adolescent well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(3), 537–557. Scholar
  36. Lee, R. D., Fang, X., & Luo, F. (2013). The impact of parental incarceration on the physical and mental health of young adults. Pediatrics, 131(4), e1188–e1195. Scholar
  37. Lundberg, S., McLanahan, S., & Rose, E. (2007). Child gender and father involvement in fragile families. Demography, 44(1), 79–92. Scholar
  38. Malone, P. S., Lansford, J. E., Castellino, D. R., Berlin, L. J., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (2004). Divorce and child behavior problems: applying latent change score models to life event data. Structural Equation Modeling, 11(3), 401–423. Scholar
  39. Marsiglio, W., Amato, P., Day, R. D., & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Scholarship on fatherhood in the 1990s and beyond. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1173–1191. Scholar
  40. Mazza, C. (2002). And then the world fell apart: the children of incarcerated fathers. Families in Society The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 83(5), 521–529. Scholar
  41. Moore, K. A. (2013, November). What is child well-being? Does it matter how we measure it? Poster session presented at National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference. San Antonio, TX.Google Scholar
  42. Mosley, J., & Thomson, E. (1995). Fathering behavior and child outcomes: The role of race and poverty. In W. Marsiglio (Ed.), Fatherhood: Contemporary theory, research, and social policy (pp. 148–165). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  43. Mumola, C. J. (2010). Incarcerated parents and their children (NCJ 182335). U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Washington, D.C.
  44. Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). Parents behind bars: what happens to their children? Child Trends. Washington, D.C.
  45. Murray, J., & Farrington, D. P. (2008). Parental imprisonment: long-lasting effects on boys’ internalizing problems through the life course. Development and Psychopathology, 20(01), 273–290.
  46. Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., Sekol, I., & Olsen, R. F. (2009). Effects of parental imprisonment on child antisocial behaviour and mental health: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2009:4, 1–105.
  47. Murray, J., Loeber, R., & Pardini, D. (2012). Parental involvement in the criminal justice system and the development of youth theft, marijuana use, depression, and poor academic performance. Criminology, 50(1), 255–302. Scholar
  48. Nesmith, A., & Ruhland, E. (2008). Children of incarcerated parents: challenges and resiliency, in their own words. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1119–1130. Scholar
  49. Parke, R., & Clarke-Stewart, K. A. (2002, January). Effects of parental incarceration on young children. Paper presented at From Prison to Home: The Effect of Incarceration on Children, Families and Communities. Bethesda, MD.Google Scholar
  50. Parke, R. D., Coltrane, S., Duffy, S., Buriel, R., Dennis, J., Powers, J., & Widaman, K. F. (2004). Economic stress, parenting, and child adjustment in Mexican American and European American families. Child Development, 75(6), 1632–1656. Scholar
  51. Perry, A. R., & Bright, M. (2012). African American fathers and incarceration: paternal involvement and child outcomes. Social Work in Public Health, 27(1-2), 187–203. Scholar
  52. Pleck, J. H., & Masciadrelli, B. P. (2004). Paternal involvement by U.S residential fathers: levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development. 4th ed. (pp. 222–271). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  53. Poehlmann, J., & Eddy, J. M. (2013). Introduction and conceptual framework. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78(3), 1–6. Scholar
  54. Ravanera, Z. R., & Rajulton, F. (2000). Variations in the length of male parenting in Canada. Canadian Studies in Population, 27(1), 63. Scholar
  55. Reichman, N. E., Teitler, J. O., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. S. (2001). Fragile Families: sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23(4–5), 303–326. Scholar
  56. Reiss, F. (2013). Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Social Science & Medicine, 90, 24–31. Scholar
  57. Repetti, R. L., Taylor, S. E., & Seeman, T. E. (2002). Risky families: family social environments and the mental and physical health of offspring. Psychological Bulletin, 128(2), 330–366. Scholar
  58. Roberts, D., Coakley, T. M., Washington, T. J., & Kelley, A. (2014). Fathers’ perspectives on supports and barriers that affect their fatherhood role. SAGE Open, 4(1), 215824401452181. Scholar
  59. Roettger, M. E., & Swisher, R. R. (2009, March). Examining racial variations in the associations of father’s history of incarceration with son’s delinquency and arrest in contemporary US society. Paper presented at National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Bowling Green, KY.Google Scholar
  60. Roettger, M. E., & Swisher, R. R. (2011). Associations of fathers’ history of incarceration with sons’ delinquency and arrest among black, white, and hispanic males in the united states. Criminology, 49(4), 1109–1147. Scholar
  61. Roy, K. M., & Kwon, Y. I. (2007). Qualitative insights and methodological challenges: next steps in research on low-income fathering. Applied Developmental Science, 11(4), 234–238. Scholar
  62. Seward, R., Stanley‐Stevens, L., Cready, C., Igoe, D., Richardson, V., & Roberts, J. (2006). Explaining fathers’ involvement with children: theories, models and research concepts. Paper presented at 101st Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Montréal, Québec, Canada.Google Scholar
  63. Singh, G. K., & Ghandour, R. M. (2012). Impact of neighborhood social conditions and household socioeconomic status on behavioral problems among us children. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 16(S1), 158–169. Scholar
  64. Swisher, R. R., & Waller, M. R. (2008). Confining fatherhood. Journal of Family Issues, 29(8), 1067–1088. Scholar
  65. Tach, L., Mincy, R., & Edin, K. (2010). Parenting as a “package deal”: relationships, fertility, and nonresident father involvement among unmarried parents. Demography, 47(1), 181–204. Scholar
  66. Thombre, A., Montague, D., Maher, J., & Zohra, I. (2009). If i could only say it myself: how to communicate with children of incarcerated parents. Journal of Correctional Education, 60(1), 66–90.1974-.Google Scholar
  67. Tremblay, R. E. (1999). When children’s social development fails. In D. P. Keating & C. Hertzman (Eds), Developmental health and the wealth of nations: social, biological, and educational dynamics (pp. 55–71). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  68. Tripp, B. G. (2001). Incarcerated African American fathers: exploring changes in family relationships and the father identity. Journal of African American Men, 6(1), 13–29. Scholar
  69. Turney, K., & Haskins, A. R. (2014). Falling behind? Children’s early grade retention after paternal incarceration. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 241–258. Scholar
  70. Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Detrimental for some? Heterogeneous effects of maternal incarceration on child well-being. Criminology & Public Policy, 14(1), 125–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vine, M., Stoep, A. V., Bell, J., Rhew, I. C., Gudmundsen, G., & McCauley, E. (2012). Associations between household and neighborhood income and anxiety symptoms in young adolescents. Depression and Anxiety, 29(9), 824–832. Scholar
  72. Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2011). Mass imprisonment and racial disparities in childhood behavioral problems. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(3), 791–792. Scholar
  73. Wagmiller, R. L., Gershoff, E., Veliz, P., & Clements, M. (2010). Does Children’s Academic Achievement Improve when Single Mothers Marry?. Sociology of Education, 82(3), 201–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Waldfogel, J., Craigie, T. A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2010). Fragile families and child wellbeing. The Future of Children, 20(2), 87–112. Scholar
  75. White, L., & Gilbreth, J. G. (2001). When children have two fathers: effects of relationships with stepfathers and noncustodial fathers on adolescent outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(1), 155–167. Scholar
  76. Wilbur, M. B., Marani, J. E., Appugliese, D., Woods, R., Siegel, J. A., Cabral, H. J., & Frank, D. A. (2007). Socioemotional effects of fathers’ incarceration on low-income, urban, school-aged children. Pediatrics, 120(3), e678–e685. Scholar
  77. Wildeman, C., Wakefield, S., & Turney, K. (2013). Misidentifying the effects of parental incarceration? A comment on Johnson and Easterling (2012). Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(1), 252–258. Scholar
  78. Wildeman, C., & Western, B. (2010). Incarceration in fragile families. The Future of Children, 20(2), 157–177. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations