Differential Effects of Type of Children’s Contact with Their Jailed Mothers and Children’s Behavior Problems

  • Danielle DallaireEmail author
  • Janice Zeman
  • Todd Thrash
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


The current study investigated children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior in relation to the specific type of contact (e.g., phone, letter, physical) and frequency of contact they have with their mother incarcerated at a local jail. Participants included 114 currently incarcerated mothers (64.1 % African American), their 147 children (53.6 % boys, M age: 9.8 years, range: 6–12 years, 61.7 % African American), and the 118 caregivers (74.8 % female, 61.9 % grandparents, 62.2 % African American) of the children. Mothers, children, and caregivers each provided information about children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Mothers and caregivers provided information about frequency of contact, including letter writing, phone calls and visitation with the target child. Findings from structural equation modeling indicate that face-to-face contact is a distinct form of contact, distinguishable from letter-writing and phone calls. Furthermore, our analyses show that more frequent face-to-face barrier visitation was associated with more symptoms of internalizing behavior, whereas more phone calls and letters were associated with fewer symptoms of internalizing behavior. There were no associations with externalizing behavior. These findings have implications for the many children impacted by maternal incarceration and can inform the development of best practices for mother-child contact while mothers are incarcerated in jail settings.


Maternal Incarceration Mother-child contact Jail Internalizing behavior 



This research was funded by grant # 5R21HD060104-02 to the College of William & Mary and the first two authors by the National Institutes of Health. The authors would also like to thank the many students and collaborators who made this research possible, including Caroline Cumings, Johanna Folk, Jennifer Poon, Adrian Bravo and Jasmine Hedge.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.Google Scholar
  2. Arditti, J. A., Lambert-Shute, J., & Joest, K. (2003). Saturday morning at the jail: Implications of incarceration for families and children. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 52(3), 195–204. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00195.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baldwin, J. S., & Dadds, M. R. (2007). Reliability and validity of parent and child versions of the multidimensional anxiety scale for children in community samples. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46(2), 252–260. doi: 10.1097/01.chi.0000246065.93200.a1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bales, W. D., & Mears, D. P. (2008). Inmate social ties and the transition to society: Does visitation reduce recidivism? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 45(3), 287–321. doi: 10.1177/0022427808317574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brumariu, L. E., & Kerns, K. A. (2010). Parent-child attachment and internalizing symptoms in childhood and adolescence: A review of empirical findings and future directions. Development and Psychopathology, 22(1), 177–203. doi: 10.1017/S0954579409990344.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Carey, M. P., Gresham, F. M., Ruggiero, L., Faulstich, M. E., & Enyart, P. (1987). Children’s depression inventory: Construct and discriminant validity across clinical and nonreferred (control) populations. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(5), 755–761. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.55.5.755.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., Jr., Lorenz, F. O., Simons, R. L., & Whitbeck, L. B. (1994). Families in troubled times: Adapting to change in rural America. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  8. Dallaire, D. H., Zeman, J. L., & Thrash, T. (2015). Children’s experiences of maternal incarceration-specific risks: Predictions to psychological maladaptation. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 44, 109–122.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dallaire, D. H. (2007). Incarcerated mothers and fathers: A comparison of risks for children and families. Family Relations, 56(5), 440–453. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2007.00472.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dallaire, D. H., Ciccone, A., & Wilson, L. (2010). Teachers’ experiences with and expectations of children with incarcerated parents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 281–290. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2010.04.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dallaire, D. H., Ciccone, A., & Wilson, L. (2012). The family drawings of at-risk children: Concurrent relations with contact with incarcerated parents, caregiver behavior and stress. Attachment & Human Development, 14(2), 161–183. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2012.661232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deonandan, R., Campbell, M. K., Ostbye, T., Tummon, I., & Robertson, J. (2001). IVF births and pregnancies: An exploration of two methods of assessment using life-table analysis. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 18(2), 73–77. doi: 10.1023/A:1026526523666.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Folk, J. B., Nichols, E. B., Dallaire, D. H., & Loper, A. B. (2012). Evaluating the content and reception of messages from incarcerated parents to their children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(4), 529–541. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01179.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Hollingshead, A. B. (1957). Two factor index of social position. New Haven, CT: Yale University.Google Scholar
  15. Kazdin, A. E. (1989). Identifying depression in children: A comparison of alternative selection criteria. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 17(4), 437–454. doi: 10.1007/BF00915037.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Kovacs, M. (1992). Children’s depression inventory: Manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  17. Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer, B. J., & Coleman, C. (1996). Friendship quality as a predictor of young children’s early school adjustment. Child Development, 67(3), 1103–1118. doi: 10.2307/1131882.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer, B. J., & Coleman, C. (1997). Classroom peer acceptance, friendship and victimization: Distinct relational systems that contribute uniquely to children’s school adjustment? Child Development, 68(6), 1181–1197. doi: 10.2307/1132300.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lilenfeld, S. O. (2003). Comorbidity between and within childhood externalizing and internalizing disorders: Reflections and directions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 285–291. doi: 10.1023/A:1023229529866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. March, J. S. (1997). Multidimensional anxiety scale for children: Technical manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  21. Maruschak, L. M., Glaze, L. E., & Mumola, C. J. (2010). Incarcerated parents and their children. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners (pp. 33–51). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  22. Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., & Sekol, I. (2012). Children’s antisocial behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after parental incarceration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 175–210. doi: 10.1037/a0026407.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Perdue, N. H., Manzeske, D. P., & Estell, D. B. (2009). Early predictors of school engagement: Exploring the role of peer relationships. Psychology in the Schools, 46(10), 1084–1097. doi: 10.1002/pits.20446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Poehlmann, J. (2005). Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers. Child Development, 76, 679–696.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D. H., Loper, A. B., & Shear, L. D. (2010). Children’s contact with their incarcerated parents: Research findings and recommendations. American Psychologist, 65(6), 575–598. doi: 10.1037/a0020279.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Poehlmann, J., & Eddy, M. J. (2013). Relationship processes and resilience in children with incarcerated parents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Purvis, M. (2013). Paternal incarceration and parenting programs in prison: A review paper. Psychiatry Psychology and Law, 20, 9–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rudasill, K. M., Reio, T. G., Jr., Stipanovic, N., & Taylor, J. E. (2010). A longitudinal study of student-teacher relationship quality, difficult temperament, and risky behavior from childhood to early adolescence. Journal of School Psychology, 48(5), 389–412. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2010.05.001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Shiner, R. L. (1998). How shall we speak of children’s personalities in middle childhood? A preliminary taxonomy. Psychological Bulletin, 124(3), 308–332. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.3.308.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Shlafer, R. J., & Poehlmann, J. (2010). Attachment and caregiving relationships in families affected by parental incarceration. Attachment & Human Development, 12(4), 395–415. doi: 10.1080/14616730903417052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smucker, M. R., Craighead, W. E., Craighead, L. W., & Green, B. J. (1986). Normative and reliability data for the children’s depression inventory. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14(1), 25–39. doi: 10.1007/BF00917219.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Tuerk, E. H., & Loper, A. B. (2006). Contact between incarcerated mothers and their children: Assessing parenting stress. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 43(1), 23–43. doi: 10.1300/J076v43n01_02.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Zeman, J., Cassano, M., & Adrian, M. (2013). Socialization influences on children’s and adolescents’ emotional self-regulation processes: A developmental psychopathology perspective. In K. Barrett, G. Morgan, & N. Fox (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulatory processes in development: New directions and international perspectives (pp. 79–107). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Integrated Science CenterWilliamsburgUSA

Personalised recommendations