Children of Incarcerated Parents

Children of Incarcerated Parents

Parental incarceration can lead to adverse impacts on children’s social development, psychological health, and educational prospects. It is one of the major adverse childhood experiences. Much research has been done on the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on children. These events can have long-term negative impacts but the presence of certain supports can help mitigate the negative impacts. Having a secure living situation with caring, committed caretakers is one of the most important supports for a child in this situation. Educators who understand the impact of ACEs can also help (Turney, 2018). Children affected by a parent being incarcerated may act out, become withdrawn, or become very clingy to the adults in their lives. Parental incarceration is a major problem that negatively impacts children in many ways and there is a need for effective ways to help children go through the outcomes.

Children of incarcerated parents tend to face many challenges one of them being trauma associated with their parents being sent to jail. The practical challenges of interrupted family life and the emotional trauma as a result of the social stigma that a child is likely to experience due to parental incarceration (Kjellstrand et al., 2018). Emotional trauma as a result of parental incarceration is evident through trauma-related symptoms such as anxiety, isolating themselves from peers, sleeping difficulties, struggling in relationships, feelings of shame, and emotional withdrawal. If undressed, these symptoms can lead to long-term emotional and psychological problems. Having a parent involved in a child’s life is extremely important, and not having one can contribute to all sorts of problems.

Parental incarceration can also cause a significantly hard time for children to adjust to life without their parents. Most women in state prisons are provided most of their children’s daily care before being incarcerated. In most cases, children are more likely to be sent to foster care and financial hardship resulting in parents’ loss of income (Cyphert, 2017). Some parents can lose their parental rights especially if their children have been in foster care beyond the limited time of the law. Prisons are also not child-friendly. Long waits during vvisits, rude treatment from police officers, body frisks, crowded and dirty visiting rooms do not encouragee visitation.

Children with an imprisoned parents may also engage in deviant behavior and end up in prison themselves. They are also more prone to depression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse. Parental incarceration can cause an interruption in their emotional development as it sends the message to the child that they are not as significant as what is taking the parent in another direction (Kjellstrand et al., 2018). Unless however, the child is a part of the whole dynamic. Meaning, that there is good communication and very regular quality time spent between the parent and child. If a child feels a part or does not feel a part of what is going on, it will significantly impact them either adversely or positively. Those left in care should be available to these children emotionally, and be willing to include them as vital members of their families.

Parental incarceration also makes a feel powerless and they truly are. Their parents are not free to be with them and anything less than that is not enough for growing children of all ages. Further, it makes the child feel mixed feelings about the government and the entire legal system starting from the police to the judges and the prison employees (Turney, 2018). This further undermines them if their parents act like a victim rather than taking full responsibility for their choices that lead them to incarceration. When parents are absent, it often leads to a sense of hunger in their children. Like other types of grieving from the loss, hunger can hit an individual at any time. It differs based on the circumstances of their parent’s absence, but generally causes feelings of abandonment, sadness, depression, loneliness, and anger.

Children of incarcerated parents also face developmental problems. A child becomes delayed, either from where the parent left or from the beginning. Children may also experience emotional delays and attachment imbalances (Cyphert, 2017). It is hard to set parameters and guidelines. Children cannot control all the emotions of grief, loss, worry, and fear. Like mini breakdowns, they become scarred in that place. The hurt and damage of the disappointment are too much. Susceptibility to addiction may also be hereditary. The emotional distress of an absent parent, usually experienced as rejection by a child, could trigger the child to reach for solace or relief from the emotional pain by using drugs and or alcohol. Such use often leads to addiction, especially in susceptible individuals. At 18 this person is responsible for her choices and can choose recovery, or not.

The parental incarceration rate has caused adverse effects on children. Thus, there are specific needs that should be addressed including the provision of resources such as food, shelter, and other basic needs. In school developmentally, appropriate pamphlets and books concerning parental incarceration should be provided (Warren, Coker & Collins, 2019). These children should also have more than one committed and stable relationship with an adult. Advice and guidance from a supportive adult will be significant in helping children survive trauma related to their parent’s incarceration. Caregivers can assist them in easing the trauma by keeping the children’s situations as stable as possible this can be achieved by setting up routines. Most children may want to stay connected to their parents. If the parents had healthy relationships with their children, they can still be supportive by keeping in contact through calls, video visits, and letters and emails. Primary caregivers should also look for programs that can help children cope with financial difficulties. These include Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and housing assistance. Many community programs are specifically created to help children of incarcerated parents.

In conclusion parental incarceration is a significant problem that leads to several challenges on children including, trauma, adjustment problems, deviant behaviors, powerless feelings, and developmental problems. However, these children can be helped in many ways.  They must be assured that they are safe, loved and that the incarceration is not the child’s fault. Caregivers can also help the child work through the emotions generated by such a difficult situation.

















Cyphert, A. B. (2017). Prisoners of fate: The challenges of creating change for children of incarcerated parents. Md. L. Rev.77(1), 385.

Kjellstrand, J., Yu, G., Eddy, J. M., & Martinez Jr, C. R. (2018). Children of incarcerated parents: Developmental trajectories of externalizing behavior across adolescence. Criminal Justice and Behavior45(11), 1742-1761.

Turney, K. (2018). Adverse childhood experiences among children of incarcerated parents. Children and Youth Services Review89(1), 218-225.

Warren, J. M., Coker, G. L., & Collins, M. L. (2019). Children of incarcerated parents: Considerations for professional school counselors. Professional Counselor, 9(3), 185-199.

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