Case Support

Parental Incarceration Impact on Children

Parental Incarceration Impact on Children

  • Separated Children and the Child Welfare Concerns Fact Sheet (2018) – Report

This publication from the ABA Center on Children and the Law, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare includes frequently asked questions about separated children and the child welfare system.


More than 5 million U.S. children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their lives. The incarceration of a parent can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence. But while states spend heavily on corrections, few resources exist to support those left behind. A Shared Sentence offers commonsense proposals to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience.

  • Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents – SFCIPP (2005) – Policy Report

This is a policy report produced in support of the Rights to Realities initiative out forward by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, a coalition o social service providers, representatives of government bodies, and others who work with or are concerned about children of incarcerated parents and their families.

  • Broken Bonds – La Vigne (2008) – Research

Over 1.5 million children in this country currently have one or both of their parents incarcerated. In addition to the trauma of this loss, these children face tremendous uncertainty in their living arrangements, relationships with loved ones, and family financial stability. Short-term coping responses and heavy stigma are common, both of which may lead to long-term emotional and behavioral challenges. This report reviews the current research on children with incarcerated parents and offers recommendations on how to reduce the negative impact of parental incarceration, with particular attention to the role of supportive relationships with the incarcerated parent and other adults.

  • Characteristics of Incarcerated Fathers and Mothers –Kjellstrand (2012) – Research

Mothers and fathers were similar on a number of dimensions including age, education-level, number and age of children, and family criminal history, but differences were observed on key variables relevant to outcomes for children and families, including employment history and income, substance use, mental health, trauma experiences and criminal history. Implications for prevention programs are discussed.

  • Childhood Disrupted – Meyerson, et al. (2010) – Research

Despite the explosive growth in the number of mothers who are in prison—and the potentially devastating effects of this incarceration on future generations—there are, at present, only a handful of prisoner reentry programs in the U.S. that are specifically designed to support incarcerated mothers and their families. The purpose of the Look Up and Hope initiative is to address this critical gap in services. Five pilot sites with a strong history of service to incarcerated women and their families—Volunteers of America Dakotas, Volunteers of America Illinois, Volunteers of America Indiana, Volunteers of America Northern New England and Volunteers of America Texas—are currently involved in designing and implementing the initiative.

  • Children of DOC incarcerated parents use DSHS at very high rates – Yette, et al. (2008) – Research

This is the first of a series of analyses prepared to satisfy reporting requirements under E2SHB 1422 which requires the Department of Social and Health Services to “gather information and data on the recipients of assistance who are the children and families of inmates incarcerated at department of corrections facilities.

This report of the National Council of State Legislatures poses a list of questions about the experience of children whose parents are incarcerated.  Each question is followed by a discussion that is intended, not so much as a definitive answer, but as general background information. The information identifies only general trends, since specific answers to the questions posed will differ by state, depending on factors such as the existing policy context and service array, demographic trends and available data.

  • Children of Incarcerated Parents: Cumulative risk and children’s living arrangements – Johnson (2002) – Research

This paper examines risk factors that exist in the lives of incarcerated parents and their children, focusing on the living arrangements of the children. It uses data from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities to address three issues: risk factors present in the lives of incarcerated parents and their children, how children in some living arrangements might be more vulnerable than others, and whether these risk factors predict where a child is placed during the parent’s incarceration.

  • Children of the Incarcerated: Collateral Victims of Crime – Russell-Brown (2015) – Resource Guide

This resource guide shines light on the national problem of parental incarceration—an invisible, collateral consequence of mass incarceration. We highlight national and Florida trends and identify available resources for academics, caregivers, and concerned citizens.

  • Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents – Poehlmann (2010) – Research

In this article, the researchers present a conceptual model to provide a framework within which to interpret findings about parent– child contact when parents are incarcerated. They then summarize recent research examining parent–child contact in context. Finally, they present initial recommendations for children’s contact with incarcerated parents based on the research presented and suggest areas for future intervention and research with this vulnerable population. Published in Journal of American Psychology, 2010.

  • Children’s Contact with Incarcerated Parents – Poehlmann-Tynan (2015) – Research

Having contact with incarcerated parents through visits, phone calls, and letters has long been considered important for family well-being during and following incarceration, yet few researchers, practitioners, or policymakers have considered this issue from the child’s perspective. Recent research has shown that the link between parental incarceration and trauma symptoms can be mediated through the quality of parental-visitation experiences. Published in Focus Fall/Winter, 2015-2016.

  • Children of Parents in Jail or Prison – (2011) – Research

Many small-scale studies have looked at issues related to children’s contact with parents in jails and prisons. Despite methodological limitations, such as small sample size, these studies provide some insight into how a parent’s incarceration can affect such issues as a child’s development and behavior, those who care for them at home, and family resources.

  • Child Welfare Practice with Families Affected by Parental Incarceration – (2015) – Practice Report

This Children’s Bureau bulletin for child welfare professionals provides an overview of the scope of the issue; highlights practices to facilitate parent-child visits during incarceration, include parents in case planning, and work toward reunification; and points to resources to help caseworkers in their practice with these children and families. 

  • Focus on Children with Incarcerated Parents – Hairston (2007) – Research

How parental incarceration affects kids, caregivers and prisoners themselves is just beginning to get studied, and the effects aren’t good.  While research is scarce, the results are very consistent.  From parental profiles to keeping in touch to prison policies, they all play a part in future family bonding.  

  • Impact of Incarceration on Families – DeHart, et al. (2017) – Research

This report reviews a single-jurisdiction pilot study, in which the researchers identify qualitative themes regarding impact of incarceration in the lives of prisoners and their families

  • Incarceration and Family Relationships: Examining the Nature of Family Involvement Among Inmates – (2010) – Research

This fact sheet provides data on the nature of family involvement among inmates. It presents research on factors that strain family relationships (in both the context of romantic relationships and parenting) when one partner is incarcerated. It also describes some of the efforts underway to maintain marriages and parent-child relationships during incarceration.

  • Mothers, Infants, and Imprisonment – May (2009) –Research

In this report, Women’s Prison Association (WPA) highlights two different responses to women who give birth while under criminal justice supervision: prison nurseries and community-based residential parenting programs. WPA provides an overview of both types of programs, review the literature on the subject, and offer recommendations for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.

  • Oregon Commission for Women’s Incarcerated Parents Report – Foxen (2015) – Policy Report

This paper discusses three key policy areas regarding incarcerated mothers and fathers in Oregon: prison nurseries and community-based residential parenting programs; foster care laws; and parenting programs for incarcerated fathers. After reviewing background and best practices associated with policy implementation in each area, this paper explores ways in which policymakers, stakeholders and advocates might address each policy area in Oregon, and suggests the formation of a legislative task force to address these issues.

Child welfare has mandated responsibilities to families in which children are in foster care and a parent is incarcerated. Children have the right to regular contact with their incarcerated parents, and incarcerated parents have the right to continue to parent their children, yet accommodating these rights can be a real challenge for child welfare workers and foster parents. This practice bulletin is dedicated to providing information to help child welfare workers better understand and address this difficult issue.

  • Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children – Glaze and Maruschak (2008) – Research

The findings in this report are based on the latest data collected through personal interviews with prisoners participating in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities (SISFCF), which is comprised of two separate surveys. One survey is conducted in state adult correctional facilities and the other is conducted in federal correctional facilities.

  • Partnerships Between Corrections and Child Welfare- (2001) – Policy Report

This report outlines the Family to Family Initiative’s development of a needs assessment tool to assess how systems can be more efficient and work collaboratively when serving children, incarcerated parents, and their families. The report provides information to aid a reader in assessing practices in a jurisdiction and in shifting breakdowns into opportunities for change.  Published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

  • Prison Visitations Policy: A Fifty-State Survey – Boudin, et al. (2013) – Law Review

This law review presents a summary of the findings from a survey of prison visitation policies in the fifty states and in the system run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The lives of prisoners and their families are deeply affected by visitation policies and, to date, there has been no comprehensive effort to compare these policies across all of the fifty states.