The role of emotion in psychosocial adaptation is an important component to consider given research which indicates that emotional competence may provide some protection against the negative effects of contextual risks (e.g., poverty) and stressful family environments (Gross, Richards, &John, 2006). Further, the development of emotional competencies is a core developmental task that has implications for functioning within social, psychological, behavioral, and academic domains, but development may get derailed when children are faced with aversive and invalidating family environments, such as those involving parental incarceration (Repetti, Taylor, &Seeman, 2002). Incarcerated mothers represent a rapidly growing sector of the prison population (Sabol, Minton, &Harrison, 2008). Although recent research suggests that children with incarcerated mothers are at increased risk of continuing an intergenerational cycle of crime and incarceration (Dallaire, 2007a;Huebner &Gustafson, 2007), little research has been directed at understanding the role of protective factors, such as emotional competencies, that may mitigate this risk. The goal of the proposed research is to address this gap in the literature by examining the role of emotional competency as a protective factor against psychosocial maladjustment and academic failure for school age children with incarcerated mothers. Three types of emotional competencies will be assessed including emotional awareness, understanding, and regulation. With the full support of the Henrico County's Sheriff's office in Richmond, VA as well as the Virginia Regional Peninsula Jail in Williamsburg, VA, 150 incarcerated mothers, their 8-11 year old children, and the child's caregiver and teacher will participate by completing interview, survey, and behavioral assessments to ascertain children's emotional competence, the number of risk factors children face, their symptoms of internalizing and externalizing behaviors, risk-taking behaviors, and social and academic competence. Children will also participate in a 5-day follow-up daily phone interview to evaluate the emotions they experience in relation to maternal separation and the strategies they use to modulate that emotional experience. Analyses will examine if these emotional competencies protect children from the experience of increasing risk. Results will inform future research with children of incarcerated mothers as well as intervention efforts.

Public Health Relevance

Title: Emotional competence as a protective factor against risk and maladjustment for children with incarcerated mothers. Narrative. Using a multi-modal (self-report, other-report, behavioral, daily interview), multi-reporter approach (children, mothers, caregivers, teachers), the proposed research examines the extent to which emotional competence serve as a protective factor against the development, maintenance, and/or exacerbation of psychosocial maladjustment in a sample of 150, 8-11 year old children whose mothers are incarcerated. Analyses will examine the relations between emotion competencies and how they interact with risk experiences to predict psychological and academic functioning. These results will inform the development of larger research projects and preventive interventions for this high- risk sample of children and families.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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College of William and Mary
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Zeman, Janice; Dallaire, Danielle; Borowski, Sarah (2016) Socialization in the Context of Risk and Psychopathology: Maternal Emotion Socialization in Children of Incarcerated Mothers. Soc Dev 25:66-81
Dallaire, Danielle H; Zeman, Janice L; Thrash, Todd M (2015) Children's experiences of maternal incarceration-specific risks: predictions to psychological maladaptation. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 44:109-22