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Parental Incarceration, Transnational Migration, and Military Deployment: Family Process Mechanisms of Youth Adjustment to Temporary Parent Absence


The temporary absence of a parent (e.g., due to incarceration, migration, or military deployment) is experienced by many youth and can have profound effects. Available research within these disparate literatures primarily has catalogued contextual and individual variables that influence youth adaptation, which are integrated and summarized here. In addition, we present a systematic review of proximal family process mechanisms by which youth and their family members adapt to periods of temporary parent absence. This systematic review across the different types of parent absence produced four themes: communication among family members, parenting characteristics during absence, negotiation of decision-making power and authority, and shifts in family roles. By juxtaposing the three types of temporary parent absence, we aim to bridge the separate research silos of parent absence due to incarceration, deployment, and migration, and to bring wide-ranging characteristics and processes of temporary parent-absent families into sharper focus. The review highlights possibilities for fuller integration of these literatures, and emphasizes the clinical value of considering these types of experiences from a family and relational perspective, rather than an individual coping perspective.

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This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health [Grant NRSA F31 MH094035] and the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation [Dissertation Research Award] both awarded to Rodriguez and by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [Grants R01 HD046807 and R21 HD072170] both awarded to Margolin.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest with respect to authorship of this article.

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Correspondence to Aubrey J. Rodriguez.

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Rodriguez, A.J., Margolin, G. Parental Incarceration, Transnational Migration, and Military Deployment: Family Process Mechanisms of Youth Adjustment to Temporary Parent Absence. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 18, 24–49 (2015).

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  • Temporary parent absence
  • Family relations
  • Incarceration
  • Migration
  • Military deployment