Collateral Consequences Uncategorized

New Study Details Long Shadows Cast On Children When Parents Are Locked Up

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

by Giles Bruce

Incarcerating parents doesn’t just affect them, but can also have a major mental health impact on the children left behind, even as those kids become adults.

That’s the crux of a new study published in JAMA Network Open that crystallizes the long-term psychological effects of having a caregiver behind bars. It comes at a time when an estimated 8% of American children have had a parent or guardian imprisoned.

Previous research has shown that incarcerating parents is connected to a wide range of health and behavioral problems in their children, and that minority kids are disproportionately affected.

The study published Friday adds to this bevy of knowledge by identifying the psychiatric disorders and poor social outcomes most likely to affect young adults whose parents had been locked up. The paper was also unique in that it analyzed caregivers and not just parents, and included a large sample of Native Americans, who are overrepresented in prison populations but tend to be understudied (their children were found to have similarly adverse effects as other groups).

“I think this study is adding a slightly more nuanced perspective on the psychiatry aspect of it, and really echoing what other studies have found that parental incarceration seems to have a long and enduring impact,” said the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Gifford, a researcher with the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University who focuses on vulnerable children.

The research used data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, which followed more than 1,300 children from 1993 into adulthood in 2015 to see how their lives were altered by adversity.

Having an incarcerated caregiver was shown to increase the risk of having an anxiety disorder, using illicit drugs, becoming a teen parent, being charged with a felony, and lacking social supports, though the study didn’t find an impact on serious health problems, depression and suicidal behavior.

Prior work in this field has found that having an incarcerated mother or father impacts the children’s rates of asthma, migraines and high cholesterol. Gifford said the new study didn’t show an influence on physical health likely because it only looked at an increased prevalence of a “serious physical illness or serious accident that involved risk of death or chronic disability.”

The research reflects the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which found kids with imprisoned parents to exhibit aggressive, oppositional behavior.

The new study controlled for other adverse childhood experiences such as child maltreatment and poverty and found that parental incarceration had an impact regardless of those variables.

“We’re learning over and over again the impacts of incarceration extend beyond the individuals who are in theory meant to receive the punishment,” Gifford said. “We’re impacting the health of families and communities. There’s no real strong indication that the increase in incarceration has improved safety. We’re really spending a lot of money on it.”

She said the study points to the need for a more therapeutic justice system: one that delivers substance abuse and mental health treatment for the prisoners, and community supports for the loved ones still at home.

Some prisons and jails are already supporting inmates in this way, with drug rehabilitation and parenting classes, for instance. Incorporating the kids in the latter can be critical.

“It can be hard for children to see their parent in that situation,” Gifford said. “It can be a relief to be able to bond with their parent and see that they’re OK.”

The Sesame Street in Communities program also has a tool to help explain parental incarceration to kids in an age-appropriate way.

Gifford said she would like to see future research on this topic delve into the difference between having a parent in jail versus prison, the length of the incarcerations, and which stages of the child’s development are the most vulnerable. Not having that information, she said, is “really a detriment to our ability to figure out interventions to mitigate some of the impacts.”

Giles Bruce

Giles Bruce is the health reporter for The Times of Northwest Indiana, which covers a region of about a million people along the industrial banks of Lake Michigan, southeast of Chicago.

His story was originally published by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, which helps journalists from all over the U.S. investigate health challenges and solutions in their communities in order to serve as a catalyst for change.  Giles Bruce is a USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism fellow and wrote the story above as part of his fellowship.

Top photo courtesy of InsideCDCR.CA.GOV


  • SpookFit- Those “pigs” as you call them will say the same thing every law abiding citizen would say. Dont commit crimes. What’s so hard about that?

  • @SpookFit

    I’m a career “pig.” Are you a career criminal, enabler, or just an apologist? Skippy is right: don’t commit crimes. Is that so hard?

  • Get what? Shot? Murdered? That’s certainly the implication.

    C: Is this really the kind of comments you want associated with your blog? Of what value is SpookFit’s message?

  • SpookFit-Every cop that commits a crime should be charged. We can both agree on that. Maybe the main thing we should take from this report is prior to someone committing a crime, they should think how it will affect their children. But who am I kidding. They still wont.

  • Spook, what’s with all the “ya’lls”? You fittin to impersonate a person of color? You girls aren’t fooling anyone.

  • WOW – really nice language Mr. SpookFit.

    Enjoy your stay in jail sounds like you are on the right path. See you soon, and hope your local so the kids can visit you. You are a great inspiration for them.

  • Skippy et al, anyone can say that if one commits a crime, one should pay the price. Only a fool disagrees. The devil, my friend, is the details. What is a crime? What price do they pay? Which crimes do we punish harsher? You say that every cop that commits a crime should be charged, but that does not happen, and you know it. In fact, what others say are crimes on the part of the police, you claim are not and simply the nature of policing. And, when police do commit a crime that you cannot defend, unlike the brother in the hood, they go on administrative leave or desk duty, collect a check and never get charged. The DA can’t and wont charge you. They have a conflict. You have a great union that defends you tooth and nail, lest we start going after the rest of the crooked cops. Hell, we have a list of lying cops that still have jobs, and that anywhere in the private sector would have been fired as soon as they opened their mouth.

    It was telling to me that when the lying cop who claimed he was shot by a sniper out in the backwoods of LA was busted, some of you referred to him as a “kid.” Many cautioned rushing to judgment pending the investigation, and then you deflected responsibility unto your latest leadership boogeyman, always blaming the top brass.

    Funny how when we talk about a 21 year old poilice officer, he a kid. A 21 year black male is a man and criminal. When we speak of meth, which is used primarily by white drug addicts, it is a health crisis, but when it was crack on the street the users where monsters, criminals. Crack, which is associated with black users, gets you decades in prison, but powder cocaine, mostly associated with Whites, gets you a fraction of that time. Felicity Huffman is wondering whether she will get a few days in jail or community service, but if a brother had robbed USC of the equivalent of the value of the education Huffman’s little white princesses got, that brother would be in prison as we speak. You bitch and moan about those that take a few dollars with their hands or with a gun, but say nothing of those that do the same, but with a lot more zeros to the number, with a pen or a computer; in part, I understand, because its above your pay grade. You say nothing about the white farmer collecting hundreds of thousands, but vilify the black single mom who gets a few bucks from the county as a welfare cheat and lazy. You gentlemen should stop being hypocrites.

  • just like an lasd to member to assume someone has been to jail…haha ur pathetic!!! u joined a dept that is known for having gangs and sexually assaulting kids and women. let that fact simmer, go lasd!!!!!

  • How many female trainees have u signed off after offering sexual favors? Cmon be honest, I wont tell anyone….

  • thats logic but, u lack compassion. u like other cops all socially naive across the board. u should watch, “bloods and crips: made in america” its an eye opener for ppl like u who would really grasp the facts.

  • I wonder if Celeste reads then passes on spooks comments (like this one) or if she doesn’t have spook on review, either way it says something.

  • Hey spook you know tv isn’t real, right? Life isn’t what they told you in pan African and gender studies, realizing this might give you a sweeter disposition.

  • I told u where to meet with ur clown suit and all and u bitched out…ur new name is takashi, get out of here nincompoop.

  • cf so on point…but these nincumpoops still wont grasp the point. It’s intentional ignorance by the people who have been empowered with the ability to to kill people and take away their freedom. Pathetic reality…

  • Spook, how long did you wait? And did you follow the instructions you were given? Or did you just send your mommy? I think I met her over there

  • Cf and spook, you girls need to get away from the npr and get out into the real world, you remind my of some kid who just got religion and thinks they have all the answers.

  • Naa bitch thats u who’s the lil lady. I tried to show u what Im really about u didn’t take it for real. I knew u were scared babe!!! Just go play house but not with kids tho sweetie. ur gone…

  • And CF is crushing ur perverted mind with logical facts its just too real for u hun hahaha…just had to add that. u can go back to being dismissed now babe!!!

  • You appear to be a very damaged person, SpookFit. Why do you assume the all law enforcement officers are crooked? Bad experience while you were on a protest line? Were you a badge bunny who got kicked to the curb?

  • CF-You and I can agree on many things. I too am pissed that people with money and/or fame, no matter what color, are able to take the easy road when they are charged with crimes. You mentioned that female involved in the USC scandal. But you named her because she is white. To be fair, you also should’ve mentioned Jussie Smollett. But you are part of the typical agenda to make all white people bad. She donated money to USC to cheat her childs way into college. Jussie Smollett faked a hate crime in order to cause division and possibly violence against other American citizens. Which of those two do believe committed the worse crime?

  • hey idiot Jussie Smollett was a lie from the start in the black community with that bs. we knew it was a lie so we never endorsed it dumbass. before u put someone on a platform understand where the words are coming from. watch sticks and stones from chapelle jerk off. shit was never condoned with us. we actually took an L from that bs smollet tried to pull. get ur facts straight bruh

  • Skippy- First of all, I am not out to make all white people bad, not even most or any, for that matter. It appears that you may be, however. If I remember correctly, Mr. Smollet’s father is or was a jewish man from Europe. Is Jussie white or black? I see you see a tinge of color and assume he is black. No doubt you are of the old guard that believed a drop of black blood polluted the race and the person was no longer white. Now, who is the racist?

    And, I think Ms. Huffman’s was the bigger crime. It would amount to fraud and theft of a few hundred thousand dollars. How much is a USC education worth? As far as Mr. Smollet, that was stupid, as was the lying Sheriff Deputy that claimed he was shot. Let us see what the lying Sheriff’s deputy gets. He was doing it while in uniform, on payroll as a police officer who knew there would be trigger happy cops all up in that area with itchy fingers.

    And, Skippy, do not lie. It does matter to you their color.

  • CF-I was referring to jussie Smollett because he is part white. Never mentioned him because of his darker skin tone. That’s how you thought when I mentioned him. So who’s the racist now?

  • Skippy-

    Sorry, my friend, the only reason you mentioned him is because to you he is black. That shit may fly when you are writing a police report (you see a gun when its only a belt buckle, or the person was making “suspicious” movements), but you ain’t that smart and I’m not that stupid. If you really wanted to make a point with a white person, you could have picked one of many who have been in the news after they blame a black men for killing their wife, children, etc. Own it. It is not against the law to be racist. Let us move on.

  • CF-First of all, you dont know anything about me. Would a racist be married to a black woman for 13 years? In my years of law enforcement, I’ve only seen 1 racist cop. Believe me when I say that he was checked multiple times. For you to run around and accuse people of being racist shows your mindset. People like you that always want to talk and assume people are racist are the ones keeping racism alive. So yeah…let’s move on. Obviously you know nothing at all about me.

  • Skippy, to answer your question, yes. Ask Virginia Thomas. No doubt, you also have a black friend. Or, better yet, look at Strom Thurman. He was not a racist; he had a black daughter and even paid for her college education. How could he have been a racist. And, if you have only known 1 racist in all of your years in law enforcement, yes, you probably are racist and nothing stood out, except for the one officer that was more racist. You must be kidding that you have been an officer for year, and only known 1 racist. How many white officers have you heard use the N-word? No need to pretend with me.

  • Cf, neo Puritan white female social justice warrior and mind reader. She can see what’s in your heart and mind without ever having met you. She has a lot in common with her puritanical forefathers, instead of pointing and screaming “witch”, it’s now “racist”.

  • CF-I haven’t heard any white cop use the “n” word. Now I’ve heard many black cops use that word. But I guess that is allowed right? People like you dont know a damn thing about law enforcement. You think every cop is a racist. Your knowledge of racism is Hollywood movies. Once again, I’ve never said the “n” word and ive only known one racist cop. So by that you think myself or my partners are not as racist as that one individual? It’s like you saying you knew someone in your life or workplace that got arrested for committing a crime. So by your theory, you commit crimes all the time, you just haven’t been caught yet or your crimes arent as serious? You will live a very empty life if you think like that daily.

Leave a Comment