Children of Incarcerated Mothers

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Barbara J. Myers.

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Myers, B.J., Smarsh, T.M., Amlund-Hagen, K. et al. Children of Incarcerated Mothers. Journal of Child and Family Studies 8, 11–25 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022990410036

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