Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 11–25 | Cite as

Children of Incarcerated Mothers

  • Barbara J. MyersEmail author
  • Tina M. Smarsh
  • Kristine Amlund-Hagen
  • Suzanne Kennon


We review the literature on children whose mothers are incarcerated in jails or prisons. These children typically experience a great many risk factors besides their mothers' incarceration, including poverty, drug and alcohol problems in their families, community violence, and multiple changes in caregivers. Children's lives are greatly disrupted when mothers are arrested, and most children show emotional and behavioral problems. The impact this has depends on the age of the child, the alternate caregiving arrangements, and the course of the mother's incarceration. Children of incarcerated mothers experience internalizing (fear, withdrawal, depression, emotional disturbance) and externalizing (anger, fighting, stealing, substance abuse) problems, as well as heightened rates of school failure and eventual criminal activity and incarceration. Research in this area is scarce and often of poor quality. A research agenda which is guided by a transactional, ecological, and developmental model, and which examines children's well-being over the course of the mothers' incarceration is suggested.

parental incarceration child behavior problems risk factors stigma and shame separation from parent 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara J. Myers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tina M. Smarsh
    • 2
  • Kristine Amlund-Hagen
    • 2
  • Suzanne Kennon
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmond
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmond

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